In all the heat that has been generated against House Bill 2749 and Senate Bill 510, two sections (Sec., 121 in HB 2749 and Sec., 205 in SB 510), are the babies that have been thrown out with the bathwater. If passed these sections have the greatest opportunity to fundamentally change how food is produced in the United States.  Here is the reality, most outbreaks are figured out AFTER the outbreak is over (or nearly so), and most recalls are generated by ill consumers (a.k.a., canaries with grocery carts).

US-CDC-Logo_109309.pngRead those sections 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.” 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…”

So, how do Sec., 121 in HB 2749 and Sec., 205 in SB 510 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?” Having accurate information makes for better decision making by manufacturers, consumers and regulators. However, in addition, giving the CDC and State Health Departments the tools to stop outbreaks faster prevents a small outbreak from becoming a large ones (most outbreaks are figured out AFTER they are over) and allows for being much more accurate at pinpointing the offending food product and manufacturer much more accurately (no more “its tomatoes, oops, its peppers.”).

Perhaps HB 2749 and SB 510 are done, but there is no reason not to move Sec., 121 and Sec., 205 forward.