NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 17, 2007

Food industries and federal regulators are increasingly advocating the same solution following a rash of food-borne illnesses: have companies police themselves and take action to prevent outbreaks, says the Wall Street Journal.

But this system has worked in the past only with adequate regulatory enforcement and industry support.  For example:

  • The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) began requiring preventive controls for the meat industry in response to a 1993 E. coli outbreak involving undercooked hamburgers.
  • To enforce the rule, the Agriculture Department dispatched its 7,500-plus inspectors, who were already mandated by law to do daily physical inspections on meat before it was sold.
  • The agency also had plentiful financial resources; and got big players like Cargill and Tyson Foods Inc. to invest millions of dollars to develop and apply better pathogen-testing tools.

By 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of E. coli infections involving meat and poultry had dropped by 42 percent to 0.9 per 100,000 people in 2004 from 1996.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), by contrast, has had less success, says the Journal:

  • Under its 1995 rule, seafood processors and importers must identify what types of biological and other hazards are common; set up ways to prevent contamination; and keep records for FDA inspection.
  • But the agency's budget and number of inspectors were only a fraction of the USDA's.
  • Its rule also wasn't as strict since it didn't require the industry to test for pathogens, and it exempted about one-third of seafood processors considered low risk.

Now the industry is looking to strengthen regulation, including broadening the use of preventive controls, says the Journal.  Apparently realizing that a weak FDA affects consumer confidence -- and their bottom line -- several trade groups are lobbying for more funding and authority for the agency to oversee food safety.

Source: Jane Zhang, "Can Food Industry Police Itself?" Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues