Food Safety Law Makes History

President Obama made history Tuesday when he signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law. This historic event establishes the first major reform of food oversight at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1938, and will bring a new approach to food safety for products regulated by the agency.

Foodborne illness is a serious public health issue. This legislation, now the law, will help us meet the food challenges of the 21st century. Given our limited resources, it is imperative that we move towards a risk-based food safety system that focuses on prevention and improving public health. This new law is the first step moving us toward such a system, as described in a recent National Academy of Sciences report which I co-authored.

Specifically, the law will require FDA, as well as food processors and producers, to identify areas of risk so that preventive measures can be developed and implemented. It requires FDA to inspect the facilities under its jurisdiction more frequently (every 5-7 years instead of every 8-10 years), and has provisions to improve food trace-back systems and foodborne illness surveillance efforts.

Important to my family, the law contains key elements of Kevin's Law, named in memory of our son who died in 2001. Even though Kevin's Law was introduced to address problems at USDA (and those problems still exist), FDA needs the same authority. In addition, the law requires imported food to meet the same standards as domestically produced food and contains provisions to address the needs of small farmers.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act passed both the House and the Senate with broad bipartisan support and support from stakeholders throughout the system.

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI) is pleased with the opportunities that this new law provides to the FDA, and the protections it can bring to the American people. CFI worked tirelessly to encourage members of Congress to support the bill and provided information to personal office and committee staffs about foodborne illness, its long-term health effects, and the importance of these provisions for the health of our citizens.

Unfortunately, FDA does not currently have sufficient resources to implement the new provisions. In the coming months, CFI and our partners will refocus our energy and work with Congress and the agency to find the necessary resources to fulfill these critical, new priorities.

Barbara Kowalcyk is the Co-founder and director of food safety for the Center for Foodborne Illness