The Food Safety Modernization Act – Part 2

In my last post introducing the Food Safety Modernization Act, I made note of the prediction that this law will not result in a food system that is much safer than the one with which we currently live.  I also mentioned that I would be sticking to verifiable, easily accessible documents which anyone can read.

Chickens are great, all natural pesticides.  But under the FSMA farms with both livestock and produce can be fined up to $1 million.

Chickens are great, all natural pesticides. But under the FSMA farms with both livestock and produce can be heavily fined.

If you read any media report about the FSMA you will get the distinct impression that the regulations being written by the FDA will solve the safety issues surrounding our food.  Remember that 48 million of us here in the U.S. are sickened annually by our food.  The media seems to think the FSMA will result in 48 million fewer incidents of food caused illness.  If the reporters and editors across the nation looked past the press briefings being released by the FDA they might have discovered that the regulations themselves, as proposed, are available for anyone to view on the FDA’s website. “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption; Proposed Rule,”  They also would have discovered you don’t need to read very much of the document (although they, and everyone, should read the whole thing) to learn that the FDA is decidedly conservative about how many people it plans to save with its new regulations for produce.

At our farm the pigs till and fertilize the next year's garden plot.  The FSMA would seek to do away with this.

At our farm the pigs till and fertilize the next year’s garden plot. The FSMA would seek to do away with this age old practice.

Page 14 of the FDA’s proposed rule for produce contains a section entitled “Costs and Benefits”.  There the agency estimates that the cost to eliminate all illnesses from microbial contamination of produce to be $1.06 billion.  But the same sentence goes on to explain that the FDA has no intention of accomplishing this.  Rather the agency states that the proposed regulations are expected to ‘prevent some portion’ of illnesses.  That certainly sounds ambiguous but luckily the next sentence gets a little more specific.  “Some portion” turns out to be 1.75 million.  The FDA then goes on to estimate the annual costs for domestic farmers to be about $460 million, foreign farms about $170 million for a total estimated cost of about $630 million.  The estimated benefit (ie the amount of money that will be saved by decreasing the number of illnesses) is just over $400 million or roughly $200 million less than the costs.

This fact is not buried in an appendix in fine print.  It is, as I mentioned, on page 14 of a document, the first few pages of which are mostly taken up by a table of contents.  Of the 48 million people in this country that are annually sickened the most ambitious and contentious aspect of this regulation will result, according to the FDA, in 3.6% fewer sicknesses.

There are certainly other pieces to the regulations being written under the Food Safety Modernization Act.  For instance there are provisions to protect against terrorist threats to the food supply.  But this is a hypothetical (though very real, which we will also get into in another post) possibility.  But it hasn’t happened.  Terrorist plots are not contributing to the annual estimate of 48 million sick people and therefore that part of the regulation will not reduce the current number.  So according to the FDA itself the regulations the agency is writing in response to the FSMA will leave 46.25 million people, every year, in a very unfortunate state.  In my next post I’ll start to flesh out the reason the FDA’s 3.6% reduction is a very optimistic estimate.  Stay tuned.  Local food.  Eat well – be well.

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Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.