A sticky situation
By Holly Martin
The fall back is tainted.
In households across the country, the always-in-the-cupboard staple of peanut butter is leaving mothers to wonder whether any food is safe.
As America's food producers, we know that the products we grow are as safe as humanly possible. But occasionally, something of this magnitude draws a lot of attention. The salmonella outbreak stemming from peanut products has grown to over 500 illnesses in 43 states. Consumers are concerned and they should be.
During the near constant news in the last few days, about food safety issues, people have been wondering out loud if there isn't a better way to handle food safety and inspection.
The problem is that food safety is handled by a variety of departments and agencies, not just one.
See if this helps you understand.
Food and Drug Administration: enforces food safety laws governing domestic and imported food, except meat and poultry.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention: investigates with local, state and other federal officials sources of food-borne disease outbreaks; maintains a nationwide system of food-borne disease surveillance; develops and advocates public health policies to prevent food-borne diseases; conducts research to help prevent food-borne illness and trains local and state food safety personnel.
U.S. Department of Agriculture: enforces food safety laws governing domestic and imported meat and poultry products.
Environmental Protection Agency: establishes safe drinking water standards, regulates toxic substances and wastes to prevent their entry into the environment and food chain, assists states in monitoring quality of drinking water and finding ways to prevent contamination of drinking water, and determines safety of new pesticides, sets tolerance levels for pesticide residues in foods, and publishes directions on safe use of pesticides.
And there are other agencies that play roles in education, research, database management, inspection and enforcement.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, "You can't have two systems and be able to reassure people you've got the job covered. This is a grand opportunity for us to take a step back and rethink our approach.''
Efficiency is good, but moving those duties out from under USDA's umbrella might not be in the agriculture industry's best interests.
As U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in his weekly media conference call: "The reason for consolidation is one thing and the where it ought to be is quite another. The reason for consolidation is so that we have one set of standards for all foods," Grassley said. "I just think it is ideal to have it in the department of agriculture."
In theory, combining food and safety inspection is a good idea, but let's keep it as a part of USDA. Putting the safety of a farmer's products in an agency that might not understand that milk comes from a cow, not the dairy case, is not a good idea.
Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.