Say Hello to the New FDA

Here's an admittedly sweeping, yet mostly accurate, generalization about government-funded programs: They're behind the times.

Due to the various levels of red tape and constant obstruction throughout bureaucracy, by the time a government program is instituted, the problem it's attempting to solve is already in the rearview mirror. Sure it might be only a few car lengths behind, but the government is not in the business of being forward-thinking. (Look at the response to air travel following 9/11. It's nice there's security in place now to keep it from happening again, but it would have been even nicer if that was installed beforehand.) As such, many programs are a bit past their prime and in great need of an update.

Take the FDA, for example.

Created in 1906, the department's spent the last century creating and maintaining standards for food and drugs. Want to sell a certain piece of produce or develop a pharmaceutical in the U.S.? Better make sure to get inspected by the FDA first before hawking your ingestible wares. Which is, of course, something that our society needs. But something happened over the years with the FDA. At some point, they became less an agency focused on prevention, and more one around to investigate when things went wrong. They became the detective solving the murder rather than the undercover cop grabbing the gun away before damage was done. But that's all about to change.

In January of 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, a piece of legislation that will change the FDA's role from enforcer to preventer. Thing is, because of the aforementioned red tape and bureaucracy, that law is only now about to become a reality. On January 4th of this year, the FDA issued the first two new rules that food producers will have to follow, or suffer the legal consequences. Among the new rules are 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 forcing companies to alert the FDA about the steps that they are using to get rid of harmful bacteria.

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Right now you're probably asking, "You mean, they don't do that already?" They do not. As I mentioned up top, government systems are generally a bit behind the times, and when a program's been around since last century's early aughts, and the industry it governs over has seen such a dramatic change in how it goes about business over the last few decades, odds are it's going to be a bit behind the times.

These new regulations can be seen as part of the new mindset when it comes to the country's health. Instead of cures, the government wants to focus on prevention. Look at the stats and it makes sense. According to the LA Times, one in six Americans suffer from a food-borne illness every year. The Pew Health Group found that 3,000 deaths, and 128,000 hospitalizations, occur annually due to food illness. All of that adds up to a "substantial burden" on the country's healthcare industry. Prevent that from happening, and the nation's healthcare price tag substantially dips.

Not everyone is completely happy, though. Where there are more regulations, there are more costs for business. A conservative estimate puts the cost to implement the new regulations at about $5,000 to $7,500 a year for a medium-sized farm. However, that's a bargain compared to the various legal fees and PR damage control that comes with being ground zero to a contamination outbreak. More to the point, the creation of this new FDA is a downright steal to us, the consumer, who can begin to rest a little easier once this finally becomes law.

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