As the Food Safety Modernization Act founders in procedural hell, Katherine Harmon, has a helpful and optimistic piece on the bill in the Scientific American. Harmon provides optimistic views both on the proposed bill’s chances for eventual passage, and the predicted impact of the legislation.
In particular, there is a focus on "traceability," the ability to track potentially contaminated foods up and down the chain of distribution. The ability to identify the source of ingredients in food becomes immediately paramount when a foodborne illness outbreak hits. In the past, critical information has been hard to come by:
Unlike manufacturing components, which are often tracked which a high degree of specificity using bar codes, RFID tags and other technology to trace them through production, keeping tabs on edible soft goods can be a tad bit trickier.
A 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s inspector general found that 59 percent of companies were unable to provide adequate information about where their supplies were coming from and where they were going—even to comply with current law. And as the peanut butter–based salmonella outbreak earlier that year bore out, tracking those records in a timely fashion is not easy. Many records are kept on paper and companies often rely on shipping documents to trace products up or down the supply chain. In instances like the peanut butter contamination, "a rolling recall that affected literally thousands of products and hundreds of companies," Olson says, "it took months to figure out" the origin and distribution of the contaminated product.
The proposed food safety bill has increased requirements for food manufacturers and suppliers to know and track the source of their ingredients, and the destination of their goods downstream.
The bill also strengthen’s FDA powers when a problem has already occurred, a true soft spot in the current regulatory scheme:
In suspected food contamination cases the burden of proof has largely been on the FDA to establish a case to obtain company records. And even when the situation looked to be potentially dangerous, the agency could only recommend the company issue a recall.
Although the new bill would make it easier for the FDA to obtain company records and check for contamination, the agency will not be continuously monitoring the paper trail—or the food itself. But the legislation would require food companies to use either federal or accredited labs (rather than company-chosen labs as is currently allowed) to test food safety, a step that should ensure easier regulatory access if a problem does crop up.
So, the bulk of consumers want this bill. The bulk of the food industry supports the bill. The scientific community supports the bill. Both Republicans and Democrats voted for the bill. The President wants the bill. Why are we still waiting?