The FDA Is Considering the Food Safety Modernization Act Once Again

As we all start our great annual wind down, the calendar reaching the end of its usefulness and replaced by a younger, shinier version of itself -- just like Hollywood, right folks?! -- it's important to take a moment to look back at what went on in the previous 365 days. If you don't, you risk finishing the year feeling like you're stuck in a weird vacuum, without any momentum, devoid of anything to stick on your "Accomplishments of 2013" list. Because a lot can change in a year. It's only by looking back that we see we're actually moving forward.

For an example, one need look no further than the puzzling case of the Food Safety Modernization Act over the past year.

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Signed into law back in January after two long years of legislative tinkering, it was to be the end-all, be-all of President Obama's food policy, a complete revamping of the FDA's role in protecting us from food poisoning. As I wrote back in January, it would set "hygiene standards for equipment used to handle fruits and vegetables, rules for water purification used to wash the equipment, more sanitation procedures for workers, and force companies to alert the FDA about the steps that they are using to get rid of harmful bacteria." It was a big deal, but one that most everyone -- the exception being certain corporate entities who instinctively balk at any move towards stricter regulation -- climbed on board with.

That is until November, when the FDA released the specifics of what the FSMA would entail. And then it riled up a whole new quadrant: The activists.

As I explained in a post about the argument against the FSMA, it was "concerns that could be best summarized in that often-quoted metaphorical case of Baby v. Bathwater. In this case, the bathwater is our national food-borne illness epidemic and the baby is small farms." For example, after the FSMA got its final approval, fruits and veggies that were grown by local farmers and sold at farmers' markets would be banned because they had a little dirt on them. This, clearly, wasn't the goal of the FDA when writing the act, but when you start putting pen to paper in order to create any sort of all-encompassing reform, you're going to have some unintended side effects.

Luckily, and much to the FDA's credit, they gave citizens a few weeks to chime in with their concerns. And, much to their credit again, it looks like they're actually doing responding to the issues raised:

"Because of the input we received from farmers and the concerns they expressed about the impact of these rules on their lives and livelihood, we realized that significant changes must be made, while ensuring that the proposed rules remain consistent with our food safety goals," [Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine] said.

So, not unlike the most recent example of corporations swapping out their ingredients because of their failure in the market, because people spoke up, change is taking place. While no one's entirely sure what the new batch of rules in the FSMA is going to look like, or when it's going to come out -- right now, the FDA is expecting a new set of proposals by next summer, before the final rules are ready for approval in June of 2015 -- the fact that they are mindful enough to consider the small farmer in the next round shows an advancement of thought process over the past year.

So, even though it may not look like a whole lot happened with the FSMA during the calendar year of 2013 -- we started the year without one approved, and we're ending it the same way -- that doesn't really tell the whole story.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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