National Consumers League

After 80 years, the FDA updates food-safety regulations

food.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

In 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). Regulated by the FDA, the law set safety standards for the manufacturing and distribution of food, drugs, and cosmetics. But, our food (drug and cosmetic) system has changed dramatically since the 1930s. 

Today, most of our raw and processed foods come from industrial farms. The popularity of frozen and prepackaged foods has skyrocketed. And imported foods account for 15 percent of the US food supply, including almost 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables. While everything from farming practices to eating habits has evolved since the 1930s, the FDA has followed the same safety standards implemented almost a century ago.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was first enacted in 2011, is a breakthrough for food safety in the US.  On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, the final preventive control rules for human and animal food were released. These rules are a critical piece of FSMA’s prevention-based approach to improving food safety. Additional rules addressing produce safety and food imports are expected to be finalized and released by the end of October. Once all rules are in effect, the US will have a food safety oversight system that requires producers and processors to take preemptive action against the growth and spread of pathogens.

A focus on prevention reflects how food policy and public health frameworks have shifted in America. Instead of relying on reactive interventions, today, health initiatives focus on identifying and preventing hazards before they reach the public. Prevention strategies are used to address public health problems like the flu, obesity, lung cancer, and now foodborne illness.

But, FSMA will only be successful in carrying out these preventive measures if the FDA has access to adequate funding. Currently, the House and Senate appropriations bills for the 2016 fiscal year do not meet funding needs. The Food Safety Modernization Act has the potential to overhaul our current food safety regulatory system, which will hopefully lead to less food contamination and less foodborne illnesses. However, without sufficient funding, we could be stuck with the same antiquated system for another eighty years.