Mary Chism
In August, consumers across America were frightened by news of a salmonella outbreak traced to several farms in Iowa. The brands that distribute eggs from the area recalled half a billion eggs, prompting some citizens to call for increased FDA intervention. In a letter to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Matt Erickson, an associate of Missouri Public Interest Research Group (MoPIRG), encouraged voters to "support quick passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to increase the frequency of inspections at food factories and give FDA the authority to issue mandatory recalls so that we can keep unsafe food off grocery shelves and off our dinner tables."

What many people do not realize is that every time a food recall is issued, it is done voluntarily by the food manufacturer. This makes sense, because a food brand or restaurant that gives food poisoning to its customers will face legal and financial consequences, not to mention gaining a nasty reputation. How many people still carry negative brand associations from the E. coli outbreaks of 1993? If a food manufacturer has reason to suspect that a shipment of food may be contaminated, it is very much in their best interests to make sure that not one bite of that food is ever eaten.

Food companies sometimes even pay organizations such as Rapid Recall Exchange to give them advance warning of any possible need for a recall. Restaurants and grocery stores don't want to get sued for making a customer ill, but, more importantly, they do not want to become famous as the business that sells contaminated food.

It is terrible and frightening that Americans were exposed to salmonella poisoning, but this means that egg producers are being subjected to increased scrutiny from all around, so that this is unlikely to happen again soon. Increased FDA oversight would make it harder for food producers to get food to the consumers, which would raise the cost of food, not to mention requiring more tax dollars to run the investigations.

Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, points out in his letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star that:
Americans have the right to expect farmers, food processors, restaurants and grocery stores to act responsibly. But placing restrictions on the food system and limiting the nation’s ability to produce food will decrease the availability of food choices for all of us [...]

The proposed Food Safety Modernization Act raises another question: how often would the government officials have to check the food to be effective? Every day? At every source? Food contamination can also come from fast food workers, waiters, flies in the kitchen, or even a family member cooking for you — not just from the farm or factory. There is no possible way to ensure completely that food is safe to eat and not poisoned, no matter what level of regulation the government enacts. Fortunately, the manufacturers of food want to keep us healthy enough to keep buying their products.

About the Author

Mary Chism

Mary Chism