Freelance writer Kristin Choo opens this overview of food safety in the United States by observing, “You could fill a shopping cart with foods recently linked to outbreaks of illness caused by contamination. In June, it was cookie dough. In May, it was alfalfa sprouts. Before that, it was pistachios, peanuts, spinach, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and, of course, hamburger.”

She discusses the piecemeal development of national food safety regulation, which has resulted in some 15 “different federal entities now regulat[ing] various aspects of food safety.” And she discusses the most recent initiatives to address the problem, including the Obama administration’s formation of a Food Safety Working Group which recently found that our food supply system “is hamstrung by outdated laws, insufficient resources, suboptimal management structures, and poor coordination across agencies and with states and localities. This approach was not rationally designed. Rather, it developed in fits and starts as the nation’s attention turned to one crisis after another.”

The article focuses on congressional efforts to address the problem, noting that consumer and industry interests are supporting the latest legislative proposals to improve food safety. Still, without sufficient resources and with Congress adding regulatory responsibilities to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) plate, some commentators are concerned that improvements will be slow in coming. A former
FDA chief counsel was quoted as saying, “Piling on more and more statutes digs the FDA further into a grave.” The article also cautions that pending legislation which would give FDA the authority to impose food safety requirements on imported foods could be “viewed as a trade barrier by other nations,” which tend to rely on the Codex Alimentarius Commission to establish international standards and could consider retaliation if the measures are ultimately enacted.

Choo concludes by citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics on foodborne illness outbreaks showing that tainted produce is now the leading cause of illness in the United States. Given the article’s inclusion in a journal for lawyers, the legal and regulatory opportunities for those practitioners familiar with this discipline are also noted.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.