Dear EarthTalk: What specific issues and protections are covered by the Food Safety Modernization Act recently signed into law?--P. Palmerino, New York, NY
Existing laws and oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have done a decent job of keeping the vast majority of Americans safe from food borne illnesses, but several recent cases of contamination have put the spotlight on what more we can do to protect ourselves from unwittingly consuming harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses and toxins that could be lurking on our dinner plates.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, of the 48 million Americans afflicted with some sort of food borne illness every year, 128,000 are hospitalized and about 3,000 die. In response to this growing problem, in January 2011 Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the landmark Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a comprehensive $1.4 billion bill that aims to stop outbreaks of food borne illnesses before they begin.
"This law makes everyone responsible and accountable at each step in today's global food supply chain," reports FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "This law represents a sea change for food safety in America, bringing a new focus on prevention, and I expect that in the coming years it will have a dramatic and positive effect on the safety of the food supply."
FDA inspectors have monitored domestic producers of seafood, juice, meat, eggs and poultry for decades, but the new law expands their powers to evaluate hazards in all kinds of food and to impose stricter standards on imported foods. Processors are now required to proactively take measures to prevent contamination, and must have plans in place for corrective action when something does go wrong. Smaller producers are...