Contaminated spinach. Peppers. Peanut butter. Eggs. The long list of foods linked to serious, sometimes deadly, outbreaks in the first decade of this new century was a steady reminder that the last major overhaul of the nation’s food safety laws occurred during the first half of the previous 100 years.
Long after the transformation of the food supply — one increasingly reliant on lengthy supply chains and imported food — the nation’s lawmakers finally approved a set of sweeping new safeguards for the modern era. President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law in 2011. The landmark legislation not only passed with bipartisan approval, but it had strong support from consumer advocates and the food industry.
It takes serious money to overhaul the vast set of antiquated regulations, develop new science-based safety standards, hire inspectors, and provide training for both regulators and producers. Without adequate funding, the law becomes a paper tiger. That would be a huge disservice to consumers and food companies, who are savvy enough to know that tainted food can taint valuable brand names.
Unfortunately, shortsighted thinking in Congress is threatening to weaken or slow these overdue reforms — in particular the new safeguards aimed at ensuring the safety of imported foods. Lawmakers are currently considering how much to appropriate in the next fiscal year for the law’s rollout. The approximately $24 million under discussion — an amount in addition to the $1.2 billion for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s overall food safety budget — falls far short of what the agency said it will need to fully and rapidly implement the law. The agency estimates that it needs $300 million in 2015 and 2016 to stay on track.
That may sound like a lot. But it pales next to the foodborne illnesses’ health-related costs: $77 billion. And outbreaks’ economic toll: more than $75 billion for industry and farmers.
That’s a key reason why leading food companies are calling upon Congress to “support appropriate funding” for the food safety reforms’ rollout. In a May 16 letter, 10 of the nation’s best-known food firms urged U.S. House and Senate leadership to increase the FDA’s food safety funding in 2015.
Three of the 10 firms were from Minnesota — General Mills, Land O’Lakes and Cargill. These companies are to be commended for taking the lead on this critical public health issue. Congress needs to heed their concerns.