01/13/2011 - We’ve all heard the saying that “too many chefs spoil the soup.”
However, it took many chefs to craft the right recipe for landmark food safety legislation that was signed by the president just last week.
The legislation marks the most sweeping reform of food safety oversight in more than 70 years. Although it will greatly improve our ability to detect and respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness, the new law is historic because Congress has made the prevention of food contamination the central focus of the nation’s food safety strategies. The days when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will do little more than respond to outbreaks are over.
As a result of this new law, every food manufacturer will have to constantly look for potential food safety threats, adopt appropriate measures to avoid dangers in food and document those steps in a food safety plan made available to inspectors. FDA will have the power to set safety standards for fruits and vegetables and will regularly review and revise them. Every food importer will have to ensure that their suppliers overseas have adopted U.S. food safety standards and practices. And, FDA will be inspecting food manufacturing facilities – especially overseas facilities – more than ever.
How did a deeply divided Congress decide to make food safety a priority? Although some legislators have been pushing for food safety reform for decades, a key ingredient in achieving this success was lawmakers putting aside their differences to craft bipartisan legislation and then keep working together to overcome a procedural error in the waning days of the congressional session.
Another key ingredient was the commitment of industry leaders and consumer groups to collaboratively address an issue that touches every American. Food manufacturers and food safety advocates were united in their view that industry needs a strong partner at FDA to ensure the safety of our food supply.
What seems like an improbable collaboration should serve as an example for policymakers as they struggle to find solutions to America’s biggest challenges. When much of official Washington gave up hope for the legislation, industry and advocates continued to work with our congressional champions to get the job done.
However, there are still challenges. The parties who played an instrumental role in turning food safety reform into a reality will still need to press for adequate funding for FDA’s new responsibilities. Without increased appropriations, there will not be enough resources to carry out this critical mandate to protect the health of the public.
Even so, the legislation should serve as a reminder that when committed people from differing perspectives are willing to listen to each other and bridge their differences, Washington can still work to help address important problems facing our nation.
It is proof that having many chefs can, at times, be a good thing.