Written by Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Very few things in our lives are as personal as food. What we eat sustains us and we spend a lot of time eating food, talking about food and preparing food.
Unfortunately, not everything we eat is guaranteed not to harm us. How can we be sure food that enters this country is safe? How can we locate unsafe produce that has been contaminated? How can we continue to have the safest food supply on the planet? Having the safest food on Earth is important, but it still isn't enough when thousands of Americans die each year due to food-borne illnesses. The Center for Disease Control reports that in one year there are an average of 325,000 hospitalizations and about 5,000 deaths due to food borne illnesses.
Over the past year and a half, I have worked on a food safety bill seeking solutions to those problems. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act, S.510, would help prevent unsafe food from reaching your dinner table. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and this bill relies heavily on prevention for the foods determined to be at highest risk.
The bill also allows inspectors to take a closer look at foreign foods entering our country. Since we have less control over how food outside our borders is grown, it is important to check thoroughly when it crosses into our country. The food safety bill increases inspection frequency of existing large food facilities. If prevention wasn't enough to stop an outbreak in our food, the FDA would have the authority to make recalls if companies fail to recall products that pose serious health consequences.
Despite all the benefits of this bill, what has received more attention are items that aren't even included in its pages. Equally as frustrating, opposing sides have circulated outdated versions of the bill that have since been changed, leading to further confusion. This bill took over a year to write, went through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the full Senate with amendments. As you can imagine, there have been multiple drafts and changes. The misinformation has gone as far as to say that this bill regulates tractor dust! Nothing in the bill deals with anything of the sort.
Wyoming ranchers and farmers should be sure to note that this bill does not regulate meat, livestock or any food that is not currently regulated by the FDA. The bill does not regulate hay, dust, backyard gardens, farmer's market vegetables or bake sales. Under the bill, there are also no recordkeeping requirements for agricultural producers.
As a former small business owner, I know the importance of keeping the federal government out of your business as much as possible. I worked to include an amendment that does exactly that for small business. Foods sold directly to consumers, local restaurants, local retailers and those with less than $500,000 a year in sales and within 275 miles or within their own state are exempted entirely in the bill.
The bill passed the Senate and is now awaiting approval in the House. It is unclear whether the bill will make it to the President's desk, but I hope the House will pass the measure. Though the bill may not be popular with some, it will result in safer food for all.
The next time you're shopping for food or sitting around your dinner table preparing for a meal, I want you to be confident that what you are eating is safe. If the food safety bill becomes law, I can assure you your food will be safer than it already is. Bon appétit.
Since this article was written, the Food Safety Modernization Act has been approved by Congress and awaits expected signature by the President.
Reprinted from the Wyoming Roundup