A food-safety bill that has been sidelined for more than a year cleared a critical hurdle last week when it passed the Senate. It is notable that in the contentious environment that is Washington, the bill enjoyed unusual bipartisan support with a vote of 73-25. Advocates applaud the vote as progress toward the first food-safety law overhaul in decades.
Recent deadly outbreaks of salmonella and E. coli in fresh produce, eggs and peanuts generated interest and support for the overhaul. If the bill is reconciled with a similar bill passed by the House in 2009, the new law will give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to order recalls of tainted foods. As things currently stand, the FDA must bargain with companies to agree to voluntary recalls. The bill will also increase inspections of food facilities with emphasis on those with the highest risk profiles, tighten the standards for imported foods, require larger producers to register with the FDA and file food safety plans, and create specific produce safety regulations for high-risk fruits and vegetables. The bill does not apply to processed eggs, poultry or meat which are rigorously regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The FDA currently struggles with little in the way of resources which means that it cannot routinely inspect many farms and food processors. Some never get a visit, and some may get a visit once every 10 years or so. That leaves a huge percentage of the facilities to their own devices when it comes to ensuring food safety and we can see how that has worked out for consumers – tens of millions of Americans are sickened every year and thousands die from food-borne illnesses each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With luck, the bill will become law and such outbreaks will be on the decline.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.