Hear CU’s Jean Halloran explain the new food safety bill and why farms need practical safety measures.
Many farmers, some large, some small, are not in favor of the bill mostly because the bill requires FDA to set on-farm food safety standards. One such critic posting for is Bob Perkins of the Monterey County Farm Bureau.
The fact is consumers need better practices on the farm to prevent incidents like the deadly E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach in 2006 that killed three, including an Idaho toddler, Kyle Allgood. Realizing that this outbreak cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars, and that spinach consumption has still not returned fully to pre-outbreak levels, the industry created the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement. However that Agreement has some severe flaws.
H.R. 2749, offers a sound alternative to the flaws of the Marketing Agreement. It instructs FDA to:
- Establish food safety rules for produce growers, such as making sure there are toilets for workers, and that irrigation water does not carry deadly E. coli.
- Gives FDA has two years to do it, in which FDA must solicit and respond to public comment, and submit to Congressional oversight.
- Requires FDA to coordinate with the Secretary of Agriculture on the standards.
Unlike the private, closed-door Marketing Agreements, the FDA’s open public process offers ample opportunity to make sure the standards are science-based and protect consumers and farmers alike.
The traceability requirements in H.R. 2749, which require fresh foods like tomatoes and peppers to be traceable back to their origin within two days, will also benefit farmers. They will avoid exactly the kind of long and difficult detective project that kept tomatoes under suspicion for months last year, and which ultimately cost the tomato industry hundreds of millions of dollars as consumers shunned their products.
FDA already has the authority to go on to farms, and issued voluntary guidance to leafy green growers a decade ago. This bill requires FDA to exercise that authority more effectively, by issuing produce regulations, something that should make vegetables, fruits and nuts safer for consumers, and bring more stability to producers.