U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, the largest overhaul of U.S. food safety laws since the 1930’s. While the measure has gained widespread support among industry participants, certain emboldened House Republicans are threatening not to fund the regulatory enforcement measures related to this law. Supply Chain Matters finds this position to be unconscionable, and lacking any sense of good judgment, other than favoritism to certain political interests.

The new law as outlined would:

-Increase inspections of U.S. and foreign food facilities; the riskiest U.S. facilities would be inspected every three years.

-Allow the FDA to order the recall of tainted food. Previously, the agency could only negotiate with businesses for voluntary recalls.

-Impose new safety regulations on producers of the highest-risk fruits and vegetables.

-Require processors to prepare detailed food safety plans and inform the FDA what steps they are taking to keep their food safe at different stages of production. The government would use the information to trace recalled foods.

The law exempts meat, poultry and processed eggs, since they are regulated by the Agriculture Department. That alone was a major concession considering the 2010 major recall of salmonella infected egg, poultry and meat products that impacted so many.

Also exempt are some small businesses, which had complained that the new requirements could force some of them into bankruptcy.

Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, favored to become the incoming chairmen of the agriculture appropriations sub-committee is quoted as indicating that he does not feel that the $1.4 billion price tag, spread over five years, to enforce this new law is necessary.  Mr. Kingston argues that although one in six Americans (which equates to in excess of 50 million people) are estimated to be sickened by tainted food every year, if the number is divided by the entire food supply chain, than 99.9% of food is safe.

Any reader scanning the numerous Supply Chain Matters commentaries related to food contamination that we have posted in the past twelve months would perhaps get a better sense of the true overall cost of this problem.

Let’s suppose that if one were to calculate just the physician and healthcare system costs related to over 50 million people potentially receiving treatment who were sickened by food contamination incidents in 2010, that alone should provide a strong argument that funding enforcement is a no-brainer decision.  Add in the additional costs of litigation and attorneys’ fees by alleged victims to sue consumer goods companies or other supply chain participants, and there is even more evidence of savings. Food related companies have also rightfully concluded that it makes good business sense to have a safer food supply chain because the alternative costs of a recall to the business, and to the brand, can be significant.  Consider that Peanut Corporation of America, which resided in Georgia, is no longer a viable business, or that Jack DeCoster’s national network of egg farms has gained the watchful eye of many consumers.

Representative Kingston, your logic is somewhat suspect.  Rather than arguing that Americans cannot afford the high costs of enforcement, the argument is really that Americans cannot afford to have their food delivery supply chains to be unsafe and without proper safeguards.  I should know, since I was one of those who was sickened by contaminated pistachios, and it will be a very long time before I consume any more.

Bob Ferrari