From the Wash Post (also see New Regulations On “Speculative” Energy Trading Coming):
The Obama administration took its first step yesterday toward overhauling food safety regulations that have been blamed for a steady stream of food recalls and related illnesses.
The new proposals, recommended by a working group that President Obama created in March, emphasize prevention, enforcement and improving the government's response time to such incidents.
"There are few responsibilities more basic or more important for the government than making sure the food our families eat is safe," Vice President Biden said at a White House news conference, where he was joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "American families have enough to worry about today. They should not have [food safety] as a concern."
Fifteen federal agencies oversee food inspections in a complex and sometimes bizarre division of labor: The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for produce, while the Agriculture Department is responsible for meat. Cheese pizzas are inspected by the FDA, while pepperoni pies go to the USDA.
The administration outlined a variety of measures yesterday to prevent the spread of salmonella, a bacterium that causes more than 1 million illnesses each year in the United States.
Among them is a final rule, issued by the FDA, to reduce the contamination in eggs. About 142,000 Americans are infected each year with Salmonella enteritidis from eggs, the result of an infected hen passing along the bacterium. About 30 die.
The FDA will now require that egg producers test regularly for salmonella and buy chicks from suppliers who do the same. Eggs, which must be refrigerated by wholesalers and retail stores, will have to be refrigerated on the farm and during shipment, as well. About half the egg industry is following similar guidelines voluntarily.
The agency said that will help reduce the number of related food-borne illnesses by an estimated 79,000 a year, or about 60 percent. The new requirements will cost producers about $81 million a year, and add about 1 cent to the cost of a dozen eggs, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. Sebelius said it will save the nation about $1.4 billion a year in medical expenses ...
Both agencies also announced plans to tackle E. coli. FSIS will step up enforcement at meat processing plants and increase sampling that tests for the pathogen, especially in ground beef. By the end of the month, the FDA, which is responsible for fresh produce, will issue guidance on ways to reduce contamination in the production and distribution of tomatoes, melons and leafy greens ...
On the whole, food safety advocates were pleased with the new initiatives. "We are coming out of a phase, just like in the financial sector, where the government was loath to regulate," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Tougher controls earlier in the food chain will result in fewer recalls and fewer outbreaks."
Bill Marler, a longtime food safety litigator who writes a blog about the issue, said: "Part of the problem with how we currently deal with food-borne illness cases is we wait until people get sick and die, and then we announce an outbreak. It seems that the focus here is a bit on preventing it before we have sick and dead people, as opposed to counting the bodies after salmonella or E. coli is out of the barn."