More FDA Authority Won't Improve Food Safety
December 7, 2010
With as many as 5,000 Americans dying every year from food-borne illnesses, consumers would obviously benefit from a safer food supply. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act won't help us reach that goal, says Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The real meat of the food safety legislation is its expansion of risk reduction rules called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which already apply to meat, poultry and seafood producers. HACCP programs require companies to examine their production streams, identify points where pathogens or other hazards may enter the system and take steps to make those processes safer.
- At the margin, HACCP probably has resulted in modest safety improvements for meat, poultry and seafood; so, in theory, expanding HACCP to more facilities seems to make sense.
- As implemented by regulators, however, HACCP tends to smother firms in paperwork and impose rigid, costly and out-of-date practices that simply have not kept up with changes in the food industry.
- That rigidity also discourages firms from developing innovative new processes and practices that could deliver real food safety improvements.
The legislation also grants the FDA the power to order product recalls. With public and media pressure for authorities to "do something" any time there is a food-borne illness outbreak, an FDA with unlimited power could be expected to order recalls on countless products that are perfectly safe, with predictable impacts on prices and consumer choice, says Conko.
- Recall what happened in June 2008, when the FDA encouraged a voluntary recall of tomatoes seemingly linked to that year's major salmonella outbreak.
- Countless supermarkets, restaurants and consumers threw out crates of tomatoes in a scare that cost the industry an estimated $100 million in losses before the FDA realized the problem was actually tainted jalapeño peppers.
In the end, increasing the FDA's regulatory authority in this way would waste taxpayer money on activities unlikely to improve safety, while driving many small and medium-sized producers out of the market and raising the cost of the food we eat.
Source: Gregory Conko, "More FDA Authority Won't Improve Food Safety," Forbes, December 2, 2010.
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