President Obama to sign new food safety legislation today
Later today, President Obama is expected to sign into law, the new Food Safety and Modernization Act, which will give the FDA more power to help make the nation’s food supply safer. Charles Fishburne talks about the reasons...and the repercussions for Virginia’s farms...and dinnertables.
The chances that you might get sick from something you ate are perhaps worse than you thought.
Sibelius: Today one out of six Americans gets sick from food-borne illness each year, with 128,000 people ending up in the hospital, and 3,000 people dying every year.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius says the legislation the President is expected to sign today is long overdue.
Sibelius: The Food Safety Modernization Act is the most significant food safety law of the last hundred years.
The legislation gives the FDA new powers to regulate, along with eggs, fish and juice, fruits and vegetables, to regulate imports which constitute more and more of our food products.
Sibelius: In addition, the new law gives FDA the power to order mandatory recalls for the first time. While food producers have often voluntarily agreed to recalls in the past, this reform removes any doubt that recalls will occur when they're necessary.
Critics say it'll take a billion dollars plus to do this, and in tight times, do we really need it?
Lidholme: I do feel comfortable in saying that, for the most part, we have the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world.
Elaine Lidholme, Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Lidholme: But, there are new things happening. We have new pathogens being discovered and causing outbreaks all the time. We're importing a lot of our food, even though we have a very active agricultural system here in this country, we still import a lot of our fruits, vegetables, and particularly seafood; and then the other thing that's changing is our population is aging, and your most vulnerable groups to food-borne illness are the very young, the elderly and people who are, for whatever reason, have compromised immune systems. We have a lot more people, especially in the aging and the compromised immune systems categories, than we've ever had in the history of this country, and that, you know, for you or for me, Charles, we may have had a food-borne illness and barely noticed, because we're healthy and we, you know, think, 'oh, I may have had a touch of the flu' and we go on about our business; but for an elderly person or someone who's had chemo, or something that affects their immune system, it can be life-threatening, and I think that is something that we're seeing in increasing terms, increasing numbers every year.
Chances are you’ve had food poisoning; chances are one in six you’ll get it again this year, and get over it, but three thousand people, some older, some younger, some weaker, will die.
Lidholme: Now that's an unacceptable price to pay for contaminations that are mostly preventable.
And that is the core of the new law of the land.
Lidholme: We have inspectors here in the Virginia Department of Agriculture that cover the entire state, and they inspect the food supply literally from the farm to the time it leaves the grocery store.
Elaine Lidholme says the FDA makes the rules and Virginia helps to enforce them, but Sibelius says, it is not safe enough.
Sibelius: So under the new law, the FDA will have the power, for the first time, to require food facilities at every stage in the food supply chain to adopt proven policies that have shown to reduce contamination. It'll make everyone who plays a role in moving our food from farm to table a partner in keeping that food safe.
That means plans and inspections and regulations for almost everybody. Some are concerned it will put small farmers out of business. Elaine Lidholme says, not to worry.
Lidholme: There are some exemptions for small manufacturers and small farmers.
The President’s signature on the new Food Safety and Modernization Act today does not mean a radical change right away. The FDA has not finalized its plans, nor does it have the money to do much of anything new just yet. But the bill changes the way we regard food safety, from damage control to prevention, and Sibelius says, that’s a good thing.
Sibelius: It will bring our food safety system into the twenty-first century, improving health, saving lives and helping Americans feel confident that when they sit down at their dinner table, they won't end up in the hospital.
Charles Fishburne, WCVE News