Will the Food Safety Law Really Make Us Safer?

President Obama has big plans after returning from his Hawaiian vacation today — first up — signing into law the biggest overhaul of America’s food safety system since the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938.

To me, it sounds like a great bill—especially considering the run of contaminated food outbreaks the U.S. has had just in the past year, affecting millions of people and creating chaos in the food service industry. And all because food plants and agricultural centers around the country have not been doing their work properly.

In 2010 alone, we saw more than half a billion eggs recalled because of contamination, E. coli tainted lettuce in 23 states, salmonella in peanut products killed nine people, and unsanitary conditions were reported at some of the country’s largest food production facilities from coast to coast—making it clear that better regulations had to be implemented.

Logically speaking, a quick fix would have been to add more inspectors and increase the penalties, instead of taking several months to sign a $1.4 billion dollar bill, but what do I know?

As an alternative, we have this food safety bill. But is this really about safety or complete control of our food service industry?

Here are some of the positive changes the Food Safety Modernization Act will bring about:

- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will have the power to directly recall food rather than to rely on voluntary actions by companies.

- The FDA will open offices overseas and require certification for high risk imports.

- The FDA will gain more access to food production facility records.

- Food production facilities will be obligated to alert the FDA of hazardous practices and submit plans for directions.

- And finally, it will increase the number of inspections — which is something we’ve needed for decades.

But, as usual with government programs, there are some other parts of the bill that just don’t make sense to me.

According to the new rules, every two years at minimum the FDA will be required to identify the most significant food threats, and develop more regulations for food production. At first glance, it makes sense, but how practical is it? Have we forgotten how difficult it was to catch up to H1N1 pandemic and develop a flu vaccine? Let’s face it, predicting diseases is not the FDA’s strong suit.

Another rule will give the FDA power to set standards for producing and harvesting fresh produce and safety guidelines for specific fruits, vegetables and designated high-risk produce which they deem raw agricultural commodities. So let me get this straight — some Washington bureaucrat is going to decide whether broccoli is better for you than tomatoes? Is this going to change the way we eat?

The new bill also includes a provision that will gives governmental control over the development of food allergy management guidelines to be voluntarily implemented at schools and early childhood programs and incentivized by eligibility for federal grants.

I suppose Congress thinks the more the merrier when it comes to new food regulations—the Department of Homeland Security will now be involved, along with the Department of Health and Human Services and even the Department of Education. I cannot help but think that in their good intention of keeping us safe, more emphasis is going to be placed on what we eat, but more significantly, what our children eat. And that is a personal choice and a parental choice, not the government’s choice.

And here is the final straw. Grocery stores will now be responsible for actively alerting customers of the latest food recalls and alerts. It sounds like a good idea as a last ditch effort to stop foodborne illness outbreaks, but considering all the money we’re pumping into this bill at the governmental level to crack the whip on the food production industry, I don’t see any reason it should have to come to that.

I can see it now…

“Hey Angelo, give me a pound of bologna. And by the way, any FDA alerts today?”

“Nah, but I hear the deficits grew in Washington!”