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Food Safety Act of 2010

3 Ratings: 1.3
A law passed in December 2010.

   11/30/2010--Passed Senate amended. (This summary will be expanded.) FDA Food Safety Modernization Act - Title I - Improving Capacity to Prevent Food Safety Problems Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) … see full wiki

Tags: Politics, Fda, Food Safety
1 review about Food Safety Act of 2010

Bad, but could have been worse

  • Dec 27, 2010
  • by
Everyone is for food safety. Who could be opposed?  Yet for all the efforts, I think the government is going about things entirely the wrong way.

The first thing that folks need to understand is how outbreaks occur and how they spread.    Food outbreaks are of two types:  those involving germs that are in the deep food tissues at time of harvest (some salmonella in eggs, some parasites in various meats, TB in raw milk, etc), and those involving germs which contaminate the food during harvest, preparation, packaging, etc.  The second includes most E coli, Salmonella, and other bugs.  Most outbreaks are of the second type in part because risky foods (like pork) are typically cooked longer.  The first type usually causes a few isolated cases, and not a widespread outbreak but of course these cases can be quite serious.

Contamination can occur at time of harvest, and for some vegetables even before harvest.  They can also occur in packing plants, supermarkets, manufacturing plants, and the like.  If a bug like salmonella or E coli gets into peanut butter, then this has to happen during the manufacturing phase.  In contrast, tomatoes can be contaminated at any phase.  Thus one has to see the dangers of cross-contamination as the primary vectors to control in terms of food safety.

Economy of scale works directly against controlling cross-contamination.  Larger factories and warehouses provide greater opportunities for contamination, and they allow the contamination to reach a larger group of people.  Conversely smaller factories and warehouses provide fewer opportunities for contamination, and the outbreaks will be more limited.  This means that at a given level of care to control cross contamination, small businesses provide far greater safety than large businesses.  Basically, the larger the business, the more frequent and widespread the outbreaks that would arise from it, given a constant level of safety precautions.  This also means that anything that unduly burdens small businesses and favors larger businesses will undermine rather than improve food safety, as does anything that favors a substantial economy of scale.  Many food safety advocates aren't very aware of this dynamic, however.  They fear (unreasonably) that smaller businesses being exempt from full requirements will leave consumers vulnerable, when the best safety is obtained by increasing the standards steeply as scale increases.

(My quick back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that where only a small portion of food is contaminated, the number of finished, contaminated products will approach proportionality to the square of the volume, so if you double the volume, you will nearly quadruple the contaminated products output.)

Now, with the Tester Amendment, the Food Safety Act at first looks like it conforms to this basic rule, and in some ways it does.  However, the fact is that the standards of safety do not actually increase with scale in the act.  This means that small businesses must still maintain the same documentation etc. that large businesses must, but that the FDA just doesn't have jurisdiction on them until there is an outbreak.   So what is saved on bureaucracy and paperwork up front is still a sword hanging overhead.

Many people reasonably fear that this will drive many smaller businesses out of business.  A much better approach would be to create a multi-tiered system with different requirements at different levels, and where the substantive requirements increase drastically as scale increases.  For the small business, local regulations should be sufficient (a small, local meat shop really should be no more heavily regulated than a small, local restaurant).  For large businesses, frequent inspections, frequent reviews of risk analysis, etc. should be required.  Large businesses should be required to stay on the leading edge in terms of food safety procedures.  Medium-sized businesses might be somewhere in between, and the goal should be to encourage smaller businesses to prosper and larger businesses to be careful about the unique risks they bring to the situation.

Before the Tester Amendment, this bill was looking extremely bad.  Now it's just looking sorta bad.

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February 01, 2011
I am really surprised at how many people I meet are not interested and have no clue about this topic. Of course because most of them rely on processed and mass-produced food from the supermarkets. But for those of us who actually support local businesses and small farmers, this is a much more pressing issue because I'm already witnessing small businesses closing because of this - they cannot afford all this paperwork and regulation that doesn't really apply to small production.

The same thing is happening with the CPSIA, which under the guise of 'protecting the consumer' places so many regulations on children's products, no matter how small a company, that nearly every small mom-owned business I know is going out of business right now. So instead of regulating the junk toys coming from China that nearly always contain excessive amounts of some sort of chemical, they are piling small businesses making non-toxic, hand made toys in the same pile. I just don't have any faith left in our government, it seems they will be regulating how many times a day we flush the toilet soon, that's how absurd it is getting. (can you tell I'm upset?) ;)
February 01, 2011
The CPSIA is an abomination which really needs to be repealed. Moreover it is a good example of how large businesses, like Matel, use lobbying for increasing government regulation as a way to discourage and even destroy competition. The same thing is probably happening here.

Our government is remarkably corrupt, incompetent, or both. Unfortunately voter apathy only makes the problem worse because it means the only people that Congress really can listen to are often the same corporations who are seeking to capture the regulatory process.

Our system would work better if each of us wrote our congressmen at least once a year as at least that would help break the monopoly that corporations seem to exercise on actually talking to our elected officials.
February 03, 2011
Yes, it's getting harder and harder for small business to survive here. I contact congressmen and other officials regularly through some non-profit websites regarding these pressing issues. I've never called them, but I do email them. :)
February 05, 2011
I've come to the conclusion that neither party is very interested in helping small businesses. The common thread through the last three administrations at least (and I limit it there because I haven't closely looked at the ones prior) has been in making it harder for small businesses to compete in key areas of the economy.
January 04, 2011
I had no idea about this act. Thanks so much for informing us. It was really interesting to read your take.
December 30, 2010
Great review and I liked that it had a solution instead of just explaining what's wrong with the system. I also agree that there should be different regulations based on the size of the business while maintaining a unified definition of food safety.
December 30, 2010

Update:  A few minutes doing mathematical modelling have confirmed the statement.  As risk of contamination of an individual item becomes rare, the risk of any item in a lot being contaminated becomes close to linear.  Consequently, the best equation for modelling for cross-contamination this seems to be:

Final risk  = (initial risk * production volume^2)

In other words, if you double your production volume, you have to cut the initial risk down by a factor of four to attain the same level of final risk.  The best approach is to process everything in very small lots, but then you lose any efficiency of scale.
December 30, 2010
Really informative review! I admit, I don't know much about this subject, but this has made me want to learn more. I appreciate that you not only critique this Act, but provide a better solution. I'll be watching this topic more closely going forward. Thanks!
December 27, 2010
Great coverage of a topic not enough people are following.
February 09, 2011
More importantly, I think it's the Best Political review in the nomination list, so I vote for you! Informative stuff.
February 09, 2011
Thanks :-)
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