Eight months after new produce safety regulations were first expected and the midst of another widely-reported foodborne disease outbreak linked to cantaloupes, criticism of federal inaction is increasing.
An Aug. 22 USA Today editorial titled “Will dinner make you sick?,” highlighted cantaloupe-linked outbreaks last year traced to a farm in Colorado and this year recently linked to a farm in southwest Indiana. Together, the cantaloupe outbreaks have killed 32 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
While the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed in late 2010 and signed into law in January 2011, the proposed regulations have been under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget since December.
“But must it really take 20 months (and counting) to write a rule to try to keep produce safer than it is now?,” the editorial asked. “It’s time to stop the foot-dragging and make the nation’s food supply safer.”
Other media outlets, including The Huffington Post and The New York Times, also criticized the Obama administration for the delay in the regulations, suggesting election-year politics may be in play.
There is no way to know if earlier action on the regulations could have prevented current foodborne illness outbreaks, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
But he said United Fresh and the fresh produce industry shares concern about the delays in regulations.
“We appreciate the hard work that OMB has to do, but at the same time we are talking about food safety and every day of delay has an impact in our ability to increase the standards for food safety in the industry,” Gilmer said.
United Fresh has told the FDA to ask for whatever resources it needs to ensure food safety and boost consumer confidence.
“It is in the regulators’ hands now,” he said.
In an e-mail to The Packer, an FDA spokesman said the regulations remain a priority.
“There’s a high level of interest within the administration in getting the rules out as soon as possible because they represent a significant step toward building a fundamentally better food safety system,” according to the agency.