State legislators around the US, fed up with the perceived slow response of the federal government to enact stronger food safety laws, have begun sending a clear message to Washington:  if you won’t protect our citizens from increasing foodborne illness outbreaks, then we will.

in a Wall Street Journal article by Jane Zhang, she highlights the numerous changes some states are making to strengthen their food safety laws and better protect their own citizens, including:

  • Georgia recently enacted legislation that gives food processors 24 hours to report internal tests that find tainted products. The state’s peanut industry was hit hard after a widespread salmonella outbreak was traced to a processing plant in rural Blakely, GA.
  • Idaho enacted a law last month that authorizes the state to charge food services, retailers and processors a licensing fee to help pay for food-safety inspections.
  • The Oregon Senate, with the support of the food industry, passed legislation in February that would let the state impose civil fines of as much as $10,000 for food-safety violations. Under current law, a food company must be convicted of a criminal violation and the fine is limited to $200.
  • California lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at strengthening food safety after a massive recall this year of pistachios from Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella Inc. that could be tainted with salmonella. Like the new Georgia law, it would require food processors to report positive tests for pathogens or harmful contaminants within 24 hours. It also would require food processors to keep detailed safety plans to prevent contamination and stepped-up testing of foods from California facilities.

Of course, these state-led efforts are leading to another potential issue: lack of uniformity for food manufacturers and distributors.  Food-industry groups say anything other than a uniform federal food-safety system will add to their costs. "It’s a good thing states are trying to raise the bar and improve food safety, but it needs to be looked at carefully," said Robert Brackett, chief science officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group in Washington. "It should really lead to a national system."

What are your thoughts on this issue?