Agriculture Secretary Calls For Mandatory Food RecallsOct 6, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP United States Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, told Minnesota Public Radio News that the Obama administration is hard at work improving U.S. food safety and plans on seeking Congressional legislation to allow mandatory tainted food recalls. It seems, said Minnesota Public Radio, that a large New York Times report published this weekend, pointed to some food safety system issues, citing cases in Minnesota.
Vilsack delivered his speech at the University of Minnesota. "If there's a problem we'd like to be able to respond quickly, rather than rely on a voluntary recall that may not be either timely or fully implemented," Vilsack said, quoted Minnesota Public Radio. "We'd like to have the power to get the product off the market and out of the market as quickly as possible," Vilsack added.
Vilsack told the group that 75 million Americans undergo a food borne illness, with 5,000 dying, annually. "Until we get the number of food-borne illnesses down to zero, and the number of hospitalizations down to zero, and the number of deaths down to zero, we still have work to do," he said, reported Minnesota Public Radio.
In July, we wrote that one day after the U.S. House shot down a bill meant to toughen the federal food safety system, the legislation passed the House under a rule that only required a minority vote. The originally proposed food safety bill failed earlier over fears its passage would overwhelm America’s small farmers.
But, the country has been hammered with dangerous, and often deadly, food pathogen contamination outbreaks such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Food safety concerns were particularly heightened following the massive salmonella outbreak linked to horrendous conditions at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). Although a number of other deadly and widespread outbreaks have plagued the nation in recent years, it was the disgusting conditions and ongoing negligence involved in the PCA debacle that forced serious food safety reform. The scandals revealed during the outbreak highlighted myriad problems with current food safety processes and prompted attention from President Obama, said the Washington Post earlier. The president called for a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and food safety system overhaul.
Also in July, we wrote that then newly-appointed FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg said, "I think food safety has been unattended to for many, many years, and that has compromised the ability of the agency to fulfill its important mission with regard to assuring the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply," quoted the Journal. "This is the time to really make a very concerted effort," she added. The agency has been harshly criticized in recent years for neglect, corruption, and a lack of focus, to name a few issues.
During his talk, Vilsack acknowledged that his agency, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible to both ensure food safety and promote farm markets, said Minnesota Public Radio. Vilsack asserted that he does not see a conflict in one agency handling both goals, and added that the agriculture sector must produce healthy food to succeed.