Food Makers Want Safety ReformMar 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP U.S. Legislation meant to prevent tainted foods from entering the American food supply is receiving support from three unlikely places: General Mills, Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., and Kellogg Company, reports Bloomberg News. In the past, the three firms were focused on inspections, not prevention; however, in the face of recent, well-publicized food contamination scandals, tighter government controls are becoming more and more welcome. And necessary.
Although the three were strong opponents to increased food safety regulation in the past, they have shifted gears and now support a bill just introduced by Dick Durbin (Illinois-Democrat) and Judd Gregg (New Hampshire-Republican) into the Senate, said Bloomberg. The bill—the Food Safety Modernization Act—would provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) additional food recall authority and would mandate manufacturers develop food safety plans to be available to the FDA upon request and force regulations on produce at greatest risk for causing and carrying food borne illness, said Bloomberg.
Scott Faber, vice president of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association called the change a “philosophical shift,” reported Bloomberg, saying the firms are hoping to prevent and detect contamination. Sanford Miller, senior fellow at University of Maryland’s Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition explained, said Bloomberg that, “The food industry has been notorious in wanting to self-regulate…. What’s happening now is a question of survival. The more the public becomes concerned about, of all things, their food supply, particularly for their children, the more there will be demand for regulation of the industry.”
Take, for instance, the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) and the massive peanut salmonella contamination that sickened over 600, was linked to nine deaths, and unearthed revolting plant conditions, mold on blanched peanuts, dead rodents, rodent excrement, bird feathers, roaches, leaks, and flaking paint. Investigations revealed PCA shipped salmonella-tainted peanuts at least a dozen times in two years.
Now, hundreds of companies are facing financial and legal problems, including Kellogg, which is named in at least six lawsuits and which recalled Austin, Keebler, Famous Amos, and Special K products, spending $34 million in 2008; officials expect the total to top at least twice that amount, said the Washington Post in a prior piece.
Bloomberg pointed out that the pending legislation does not ensure safety plans are adequate and enforced, according to Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Washington-based Food & Water Watch. Corbo suggests the FDA ensure such plans protect the public. “There has to be some sort of check to make sure those plans are valid,” he said, quoted Bloomberg.
Kraft supports the proposed FDA recall power, as does General Mills which hopes the increased power will ensure contaminated foods are removed from store shelves more expeditiously, said Bloomberg. “We expect reform will encompass both greater authority and greater capacity to strengthen our overall ability to prevent and respond to food safety issues nationally,” said General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster, according to Bloomberg.
The bill also has a requirement that mandates food importers document how overseas suppliers are overseen and are looking to have the government regulate produce producers in the same way food and meat processors are regulated.