(CSPI) — Feb. 4 marked the "one-year-and-one-month" anniversary of the day that President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Rules that would make our food supply significantly safer are apparently stalled at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The administration is now over 30 days late on meeting several deadlines mandated by Congress.
FSMA was enacted to improve the safety of many fresh foods, including eggs, dairy products, seafood, fruits and vegetables, and many processed and imported foods. But until FDA develops rules to describe the details of those improvements, the law is a hollow victory for consumers who want safer food.
Congress passed FSMA in late 2010, following a steady drumbeat of major outbreaks involving a wide variety of foods regulated by FDA. Numerous Congressional investigations and hearings covered the nationwide outbreaks and recalls in 2006 (spinach); 2007 (contaminated pet food and imported seafood); 2008 (peanut butter); 2009 (produce); and 2010 (eggs). The President signed FSMA into law January 4, 2011, which started the clock for a number of statutory deadlines.
In November and early December, FDA delivered proposed rules detailing food safety control programs for food manufacturers and importers, and new standards for the safe production of fresh fruits and vegetables to OMB for preliminary review. Proposals addressing produce and imports each carry a statutory deadline of 12 months; the other proposals are essential to implementing the law, and have July 4 deadlines for implementation.
Given the urgency of food safety problems, Congress specifically mandated these deadlines for FDA to meet, to ensure that the safeguards included in FSMA did not fall victim to bureaucratic delays. But perhaps OMB didn’t get that message. Here it is again:
Listeria in cantaloupe killed 30 people last fall. In the past few months raw alfalfa sprouts, pine nuts, and romaine lettuce have each caused major outbreaks. All are FDA-regulated products that might be safer after FSMA regulations take effect, but without them, consumers remain vulnerable. The Obama administration should fulfill the promise of FSMA and move rapidly to release these proposed rules.