“Filthy Food” Headlines: A Political Play to Create Unnecessary Consumer Anguish
Updated: Nov 20, 2018
Is food getting filthier? If one goes by articles posted last week, it would certainly seem that it is. Or there is concern that it will become filthier through regulatory roll backs.
This week we will talk about two issues related to “filthy food,” one that is a real concern in relation to some of the recent practices uncovered around Brazilian beef, and the other related to continued threats of regulatory hurdles in the U.S. that will negatively impact food safety.
USDA’s action to thwart the potential impacts of the Brazilian tainted meat scandal on U.S. consumers is certainly a stand against what could be termed “filthy food.” But there may be more question as to whether the House-proposed H.R.5 - Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 would make food filthier, as put forth by Center for Science in the Public Interest, or make government more accountable and regulation more transparent, as intended by the bill.
On March 17, Brazil’s federal police accused some of the country’s biggest meat producers of bribing health inspectors to turn a blind eye on unsafe practices such as repackaging beef past its sell-by date, making turkey ham out of soyabeans, processing rotten meat, shipping exports with traces of Salmonella, and overusing potentially harmful additives. On March 18, USDA/FSIS instituted 100% point-of-entry re-inspection of all imported Brazilian beef.
The re-inspection to keep what can certainly be called “filthy food” out of the U.S. includes product examination on 100% of the lots, 100% testing of beef trimmings from Brazil for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC), and 100% testing of ready-to-eat products from Brazil for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. The initiatives were implemented despite USDA’s statement that none of the implicated establishments had shipped meat products to the U.S., and the agency said it will indefinitely maintain its 100% re-inspection and pathogen testing of all lots of FSIS-regulated products imported from Brazil.
While 25 countries initially banned imports of some or all of Brazil’s meat, cutting the country’s exports by 99%, some, such as China, Chile and Egypt are now lifting the ban, except that of the operations that are still under investigation. With even China pulling the beef from its shelves, this could focus on food fraud and international issues; or how an incident can impact an entire country – and industry segment; or the increased import examinations by FSIS; etc.
On the other hand, the House-proposed Regulatory Accountability Act (which follows a similar Senate-proposed S.2006 - Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015) brings with it a few more questions – not only as to whether it would actually make food more or less safe, but also how it flows with the Trump Administration’s overall thinking and plans on food safety regulation.
As we reported last week, food safety did not factor into Trump’s Budget Blueprint and with the fact that this accountability bill is focused toward all federal rulemaking – with no specific mention of food or the FDA, it still doesn’t seem that the new administration is taking a stand, despite the fact that the many in the media/social media have picked up on the attention-grabbing phrase to describe the bill.
So, if the bill continues to move forward and is signed into law, will it negatively impact food safety?
As written, the Act would require federal agencies to:
Publish in the Federal Register advance notice of proposed rulemaking involving a major or high-impact rule, a negative-impact-on-jobs-and-wages rule, or a rule that involves a novel legal or policy issue arising out of statutory mandates.
Consult with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before issuing a proposed rule and after the issuance of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking.
Provide interested persons an opportunity to participate in the rule making process.
Hold a hearing before the adoption of any high-impact rule.
Expand requirements for the adoption of a final rule, including requiring that the agency adopt a rule only on the basis of the best evidence and at the least cost.
Grant any interested person the right to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule.
The rule would also provide specifications for periodic review and revisions of rules, based primarily on any changes in the benefits and costs to regulated entities.
While the proposed rule includes other requirements for federal rulemaking, it is primarily the added oversight and hurdles, along with the requirements for basing rules on least cost, that have opponents up in arms.
Food politics is alive and well and while the Brazilian story does raise some genuine concerns the sensational headlines surrounding the “Filthy Food Bill” is in my view a political play and designed to create unnecessary anguish amongst consumers. The so-called Filthy Food Bill refers to the Regulatory Accountability Act which make no specific reference to food safety regulations. As I have commented before, I don’t think FSMA is vulnerable from the Trump administration but I do think the process of getting major guidance documents and new regulations approved will be both tortuous and slow. While we certainly have plenty of new food safety regulations to focus on, and we don’t need any new ones right now, we do need guidance documents if FDA is going to enforce the new regulations.
In no way will the Regulatory Accountability Act result in filthy food, but it may result in more burdens on getting needed guidance documents out. Politicizing food safety is a Washington D.C. sport that unfortunately can unnecessarily scare consumers. I have faith in the food industry and their desire to protect brands such that I very much doubt our food supply is on the verge of becoming filthy with anything Congress may pass. So let’s keep things in perspective on food safety and focus on the real risks, like the Brazilian beef issue, rather than “trumped up” scares based on tighter controls on new regulations.
About The Acheson Group (TAG)
Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com