Eat Your Spinach!

Eat Your Spinach!

This is one of those dull bills that really matters:

“The nation’s complex food supply chain would become more transparent, inspections of food facilities would become more frequent and manufacturers would be required to take steps aimed at preventing food-borne illnesses under legislation proposed yesterday by key House leaders who have pledged to modernize the food safety system.

The bill, introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), would give the Food and Drug Administration broad new enforcement tools, including the authority to recall tainted food, the ability to “quarantine” suspect food, and the power to impose civil penalties and increased criminal sanctions on violators.

Among other things, the proposal would put greater responsibility on growers, manufacturers and food handlers by requiring them to identify contamination risks, document the steps they take to prevent them and provide those records to federal regulators. The legislation also would allow the FDA to require private laboratories used by food manufacturers to report the detection of pathogens in food products directly to the government.

“This is a major step forward,” said Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “This has really been needed for decades. We’re still operating under a food and drug law signed by Teddy Roosevelt.””

Rick Perlstein coined the wonderful phrase “e. coli conservatism“. We’ve been living with, and in some cases dying from, e. coli conservatism for years. It’s nice to know that we’re getting back to serious food safety liberalism, which, frankly, ought to be just plain common sense, and perfectly acceptable to any conservatives who care about a strong defense. After all, food-borne illness kills about 2,000 more people every year than died on 9/11; why we should spend over half a trillion dollars a year defending ourselves against human invaders while leaving ourselves open to bacteria that are every bit as lethal is a mystery that passeth all understanding.

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Special FDA bonus: the new FDA commissioner and her principal deputy have an article outlining their plans for the agency in the New England Journal of Medicine. It’s quite good. Merrill Goozner has some good analysis here.