Starting this day, January 4 2013, President Obama has signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act. These new rules give the Food and Drug Administration more power to prevent the tragedies seen from food contaminated during production. In a long-dragged out response to many outbreaks, covering several states at times, of salmonella, listeria or other types of bacterial food poisoning, farmers and food processors will now have to comply with precautions to lessen the likelihood of similar happenings.
Such changes to the laws governing the food industry have been proposed for a few years but the presidential campaign, not to mention opposition from some companies that do not wish any further hampering of their freedoms to inflict disease on consumers, suffering to animals, and their desire to spend as little money as possible, got in the way. Now that the political end of things has settled down, the other aspects of the matter have less influence.
A great deal of the problem of contamination is not only a matter of employees neglecting to wash their hands, as is often believed. Sick workers who have no health insurance and therefore must continue on the job or be terminated, or who have no sick leave, contribute an unhealthy amount of germs. On farms, especially where field workers have no facilities, the field is the bathroom. In many instances where undocumented workers are hired there are no qualms by management about letting such things occur; if the field workers don’t like it, they can leave. It’s not likely anyone will go to the authorities because they fear deportation.
Other reasons for contamination involve inhumane treatment of animals from day one of their miserable lives. Overcrowded conditions, sick or even dead animals in with the living, no waste removal, and outright torture are the norm in most factory farms. Feeding contaminated food to these poor creatures is also acceptable. Using chemically and hormone-enhanced feed is far from the only problem in such facilities.
Yet the new laws—which are going to be only of benefit to the consumers if actually followed—are a little step in the right direction. Farm staff and food processors must now ensure that the water used from irrigation right through to washing food and plant floors is free of bacteria. If samples used in quality control are found to be infected the information must be relayed to the FDA. As with meat, dairy, seafood and egg production, now produce as well must be handled in systems that are geared to prevent any type of contamination. In the fields, manure used for fertilizer must be treated and/or composted first in order to ensure there is nothing in it likely to spread disease.
All in all, the new rules will help to at least make a dent in cases of widespread food poisoning by salmonella and other deadly germs as in the case of peanut butter last year, which was recalled after it had already caused harm. Prevention is, of course, the best method of avoiding disease in the first place. Nothing, however, has been said so far in regard to what penalties will follow breach of these laws. In China the usual result is facing a firing squad. While that is certainly not recommended here in the United States, there ought to be consideration of at least manslaughter charges when it can be proven that plant or farm management has knowingly allowed contaminated food to be shipped out to the stores. Those who allow unclean conditions for workers or who fail to enforce sanitation, quality control or other health standards should also face severe penalties. Knowingly allowing packaged disease to hit the supermarket shelves, endangering the lives of countless people, is no less lethal than drunk driving and should be treated as harshly as possible.
For a list of all the new regulations for food production, see: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/fsma/default.htm