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The Food Safety Modernization Act Needs Proper Funding

Congress and the FDA can help prevent foodborne illness before it reaches the consumer

Published: September 18, 2015 01:00 PM

This year, one in six Americans will get sick from foodborne diseases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounts to nearly 50 million people, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations, and, tragically, 3,000 deaths.

A salmonella outbreak from contaminated peanut butter in 2008 and 2009 is a startling example, killing nine and sickening hundreds of people across the country. Just this year, the owner of the facility that produced those peanut products—and who knew they were contaminated—is expected to serve jail time after being convicted for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and other crimes connected to the outbreak.

But what if these deadly outbreaks could be prevented before they strike thousands, rather than trying to minimize the damage from contaminations after they’ve harmed consumers?

That’s the goal of two new key food safety rules recently released by the Food and Drug Administration. The rules, part of the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act enacted in 2011, require human and animal food facilities to develop and implement written food safety plans identifying possible safety problems and to outline steps to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of these events.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has long championed the Food Safety Modernization Act—a groundbreaking law designed to bring an outdated food-safety system in to the 21st century. And we think these two final rules, the first of seven major Food Safety Modernization Act rules to be finalized by 2016, are important steps in making our food supply safer.

Check our food safety guide for more information, including our special reports on ground beef safety, pesticides in produce, and the rise of superbugs.

Rather than reacting to foodborne illness outbreaks after consumers have fallen ill, food producers and the FDA will work together to prevent contamination on the front end. This not only will better protect our food supply, but also improve public health as a whole.

These rules have been a long time coming and we applaud the FDA for finalizing them. But we’ll only see the full, life-saving potential if the FDA has enough funding to properly implement them. Unfortunately, funding bills in both houses of Congress fall far short of what is needed.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was passed following string of contaminations of common foods such as eggs, spinach, and peanut products. But it shouldn’t take another salmonella or E. coli outbreak to get lawmakers to make food safety a priority.

It’s time for Congress to step up and provide the FDA the funding it needs to implement these rules. We’re committed to working with lawmakers to ensure the FDA can do its work to keep our food safe, but they need to hear from you too. Contact your lawmakers today and tell them to support the FDA.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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