In the news

The New Britain Herald

By the end of last week, a half-billion eggs had been recalled in the nationwide investigation of a salmonella outbreak at two Iowa farms, both agribusiness giants.

We were shocked to discover that the recall was voluntary because the Food and Drug Administration still doesn’t have the power to order a recall.

That’s after major recalls of peanut butter spiked with Salmonella, spinach laced with e-coli, and chili loaded with botulism.

It turns out that the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by the House last July was never even brought up for a vote in the Senate.

According to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a major sponsor of the legislation, the bill is constructed to more quickly and efficiently track the origins of food-borne outbreaks, to help prevent further outbreaks, to increase food facility inspections and expand agency access to records and test outcomes and, perhaps most important, to allow the FDA to issue recalls when a company does not recall a dangerous product. We understand that small farmers vehemently oppose the bill because it would create a significant paperwork burden and otherwise catch them up in a tangle of regulations that would threaten their ability to thrive. But that’s easily solved — exempt the little guys.

In every case so far, it has been the agribusiness giants that have been at the root of the problem. Not that contamination couldn’t happen at small farms but the impact would be so much less — for instance, what Connecticut farm is capable of producing a half-billion eggs?

On the other hand, The United Egg Producers, the industry trade group for egg producers, reports that fewer than 200 companies, most concentrated in five Midwestern states, now control 95 percent of laying hens in the U.S. And they’re working with no significant oversight. The Food and Drug Administration has never sent inspectors to the two Iowa-based facilities. Neither has the Department of Agriculture, which shares responsibility for eggs with the FDA.

The Food Safety Modernization Act is intended to change that and increase inspections of these giant companies.

“The Senate should move immediately to pass S. 510 and Congress should move a bill that incorporates the strongest enforcement provision ... promptly to the President’s desk for signature,” said Carolyn Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“The outbreak demonstrates the need for a food safety cop on the beat.”

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