The Senate passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act which gives the Food and Drug Administration dramatically greater power to regulate food production and distribution. Bouyed by the outbreak of salmonella in eggs earlier this year, the Act was supported by both activists and industry as a way to improve food safety, especially to reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses. Industry? Cynics might suspect that a little bit of socializing of risk might be going on, but what do they know?
As it happens the Centers for Disease Control reports this year that the rates of six different foodborne illnesses have declined when compared with 1996-1998. Admittedly, the decline has apparently stalled in recent years.
I noted in a recent column on the topic that private food companies were already developing testing and certification programs to address their customers' worries about foodborne illness. I further predicted:
We can expect that as the media and consumers focus more attention on food safety, that food producers and processors will respond to market demands with increasing alacrity and effectiveness. The new regulations sought by the FDA will only slow down that process while offering the illusion of increased safety.
Perhaps I am wrong and the new regulations will work exactly as their proponents hope and the trends in foodborne illness will dramatically improve. Just to keep me and the FDA honest I plan revisit these data in future years.