FDA Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary of a Food Safety Law That Hasn’t Made Our Food Safer
In a week when hundreds of President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as part of an effort to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election—the latter of which Congress subsequently confirmed was won handily by President-elect Joe Biden—you’d be forgiven if it escaped your notice that one of the country’s worst food laws, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its signing.
FSMA, which was signed into law on January 4, 2011, by President Obama, gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “more power to crack down on food-safety scofflaws and decrease the incidence of foodborne illness across the country,” I detailed in a 2012 law-review article, The Food-Safety Fallacy: More Regulation Doesn’t Necessarily Make Food Safer.
Before madness overtook the Capitol this week, the FDA was celebrating the law’s birthday.
“It’s not enough to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness,” said Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy, in a statement this week. “We must prevent them from happening in the first place.”
That shift from a reactive to a proactive agency, Yiannas notes, was Congress’s mandate to the FDA in passing FSMA, the most noteworthy update of agency food-safety enforcement in decades. So how’s it going?
Yiannas describes what he sees as FSMA’s key accomplishments, including that food businesses “are now taking concrete steps every day to reduce the risk of contamination” and that the law has caused a “bigger conversation about the importance of food safety,” strengthened agency partnerships with business and civil society, “advanced food safety,” and fostered “safer food in this country.”
But has it really done that?
In 2011, before FSMA was implemented, the Centers for Disease Control, which tracks and responds to foodborne illness outbreaks, estimated that tainted food causes around 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year. Today, a decade o
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