After two years of delay, the Food and Drug Administration announced today that rules putting the United States at the forefront of food safety worldwide are finally moving forward.
President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act on Jan. 4, 2010. Hailed as the most sweeping overhaul of food safety in 70 years, it was held up in the review process until Friday, possibly due to election-year jitters over too much regulation. That logjam has now cleared and FDA is proposing two significant rules that should greatly increase the safety of the U.S. food system, experts say.
"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is a common-sense law that shifts the food safety focus from reactive to preventive," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement.
The two new rules are part of a suite of regulations in the 2010 legislation. They cover food production-facility safety and fruit and vegetable safety on the farm and in the packing shed. Three more rules are pending and should be issued shortly, said Mike Taylor, officially FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine and unofficially the food safety czar. He called their release the start of "a new era. We should have fewer outbreaks, fewer illness and less disruption of the food supply.
The new rules "will govern about 80% of the U.S. food supply, pretty much everything but meat and poultry," said Erik Olson, director of food programs at Pew Charitable Trusts' health group. It's a significant step that is the first overhaul of "FDA's food safety laws since the Great Depression."
The FDA will need extra funding to implement the rules but where it will come from isn't yet clear. In its 2013 budget, the agency requested the ability to implement fees that would have brought in $220 million in funding, but Taylor said "we got a strong signal that we shouldn't expect it" to come through.
Food-borne illness sickens an estimated one in six Americans every year, with nearly 130,000 hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's estimated that about 3,000 die from their illness.