Screen shot 2010-08-18 at 2.18.15 PM.pngScreen shot 2010-08-18 at 2.19.05 PM.pngIn the middle of yet another nationwide recall of food (228,000,000 eggs to be exact) and an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to those eggs that appears to have begun in the Spring and announced in August, I had memory of House Bill 2749 (passed Jul7 2009), Sec., 121 and Senate Bill 501 (to be voted on shortly) Sec., 205. I know, I know, I need to get a life.

Interestingly these Sections have received little attention, but IMHO, have the greatest opportunity to fundamentally change how food is produced in the United States. Overstatement? Perhaps.

Of course, if SB 510 passes, it will need to be reconciled with the language of HB 2749. And, Congress will need to provide adequate funding and the President will need to sign it. Then of course the agencies impacted will need to promulgate Regulations – so, not a quick fix.

Read those sections above for yourself. However, here is my take on them:

Both Bills opening provisions are essentially the same except the Senate version excludes in Section (E) (House version (b) (5)), “including working toward automatic electronic searches” and “in order to identify new or rarely documented causes of feed-borne illness and submit standardized information to a centralized database.” Frankly, I am not clear what the Senate is concerned about here other than the fact that most Senators are as old as dirt and predate a former Senator inventing the internet in the first place.

The remaining provisions of the opening provisions are identical. The Secretary of HHS (remember these bills ONLY relate to FDA and the products it oversees) “acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shall enhance food-borne illness surveillance systems to improve the collection, analysis, reporting and usefulness of data on food-borne illnesses by…” Clearly, all laudable goals.

So, how does SB 510 and HR 2749 accomplish that?

– coordinate Federal, State and local systems, including complaint systems and networks of public health, food regulatory agencies and labs;

– facilitate sharing of findings between FDA, USDA, State and local agencies, and the public;

– develop improved epidemiological tools;

– improve systems that attribute an outbreak to a specific food;

– expand fingerprinting and other detection strategies for food-borne agents;

– allow public access to aggregated, de-identified surveillance data;

– publish findings at least yearly;

– rapidly initiate scientific research by academic institutions;

– integrate surveillance systems and data with other biosurveillance and public health entities.

Also, not in the House Bill is the creation of “PARTNERSHIPS” which appears to actually be a “working group of experts and stakeholders from Federal, State and local food safety and health agencies, the food industry, consumer organizations and academia.”

SB 510 Section 205 (c) in most part is a restatement of the above to-do list with the addition of “strengthen[ing] the capacity of State and local agencies to carry our inspections and enforce safety standards.”

Section 205 (d) requires the Secretary to (within a year) complete a review of State and local capacities, including staffing levels, laboratory capacity, outbreak response, inspection and enforcement functions

So, why did I say, that these surveillance provisions “have the greatest opportunity to fundamentally change how food is produced in the United?” Bottomline, it is information. In a market-based country and economy, having information about what is poisoning us should not be in the exclusive ownership of manufacturers or the government. Information is the key to allowing consumers to make the best choices that they can. Choices drive decisions to purchase (or stop purchasing) a food product. Presumably, if we had better information on who was poisoning us, we would stop buying from them. Presumably too those manufacturers would either clean up their act or go out of business.

True, a complete free market approach will not work – some level of regulation will be required to protect consumers and to protect manufacturers. Having good information and a coordinated surveillance system will allow for smart, targeted inspection and enforcement.

The goal here is to create a food supply safer than the one that allows for the poisoning of 76,000,000, hospitalization of 325, 000 and the death of 5,000 yearly in the United States because they ate food.

  • It seems to me that what we need is a low cost, fast, and none labor intensive method of testing food product before it leaves the factory/processing plant floor. We currently rely on testing methods that take days to perform and cost more then most companies are willing to pay. All or most testing methods require highly trained individuals who are paid very well for their expertise. Also, by the time these costly and time consuming tests are complete, the food products have already left the factory or processing plant, and families have purchased the products.
    If you don’t mind, I would like to suggest that you do a story (or perhaps several) about technologies that might help solve some of our food borne illness problems. Maybe I am just naive, but I have to believe that someone out there has the technology to accurately, cheaply, and quickly check the product before it leaves the factory/processing plant floor. If these technologies were promoted either by laws, public awareness, or the free market many of our food borne illness issues could be eliminated.

  • The level of enhanced safety testing required now was not necessary for most of the 20th century and would not be now if it were not for the overcrowding and filth associated with large-scale factory farming conditions. When new food safety regulations are passed, it is invariably the small independent or organic farmers providing safe food that suffer, being unable to afford the cost of complying with new regulations.

    While the value of factory-farm produced food is inferior to begin with, new regulations can lower the quality of organic food being produced – for example, pasteurization (proposed by some advocates), which destroys enzymes and vitamins. What needs to be better regulated is dirty farming practices, requiring cleaner and more humane conditions for raising livestock and produce, such that contamination would not occur in the first place. How, for example, was Jack DeCoster able to stay in business for so long even as a “habitual offender” of Iowa’s water-safety laws? Eggs, feed, and chicks from his farms contributed a greater share than those of any other individual to the recent salmonella outbreak.

    How about forcing habitual offenders like DeCoster out of business instead of forcing organic and other small farmers our of business by making them comply with the kind of regulations needed to keep big offenders in line? Instead of more universally-applied regulations, the inspection process should be better and more selectively enforced, focusing on large-scale producers and those with known poor safety records.

  • Todd

    Y, have to agree w/ previous poster. All of these food borne illnesses are a direct result of the current factory farming practices that, ironically this legislation will cause to be inspected less. It will however load up on compliance efforts for small/organic operations, let alone mom and pop farms. To think this will help is ludicrous. The answer is to stop the GMO/Pesticide/Antibiotic “foods” that governement and big farma love to make, and instead put a system in place that promotes actual, healthy foods.
    Raw milk: illegal, yet the healthiest thing around.
    Store bought milk: total crap, deadly if not boiled beyond recognition, then flavorized, homogonized, additived all up and down so you can drink it.
    Isn’t it ironic that the large outbreaks of food borne illness ocur in the most heavily regulated industries?
    The government sucks at pretty much everything, so why do I want them in charge of my food supply? This legislation, says much but details none. All enforcement is open to interpretation. Given our governments’ record of interpreting simple thing like the constitution properly, I’d say this sb510 is rife w/ potential abuse. You will assume I’m wrong fo course, right up until you can’t get food because some FDA stooge decided whole foods won’t get their deliveries this month. then what???