Why the Waxman Bill is Better
By Consumers Union on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
Consumers Union has been campaigning for several years for improvements in our food safety system, but we have been opposed from the start to this “marketing agreement” approach to insuring food safety. Following the deadly outbreak of E. coli in spinach in 2006, the large leafy green processors including Dole and Chiquita/Fresh Express banded together to create a California Marketing Agreement that mandated certain practices for farmers who supplied them. Consumers Union opposed this Agreement because it was created by big processors behind closed doors without any input from the public, consumers, scientists or environmental agencies. The environmental problems we are seeing now, described in the Chronicle, are the result of that closed door process.
The Chronicle was off base however in implying that the Waxman-Dingell FDA reform bill now before the House of Representatives is a vehicle for making this approach “go national.” In fact quite the opposite. Do we need new food safety standards and enforcement? Yes. How could anyone look at the three deaths from contaminated spinach two years ago, or the nine deaths this year from contaminated peanut butter, produced in a factory loaded with dirt and dead rats which the FDA had not inspected for eight years, and not think so? But private, closed-door, industry-created standards are not the answer. Though it might seem like an old-fashioned concept, we believe in standards created and enforced by a public agency, for the public good.
Consumers Union supports Waxman’s bill because it directs FDA to create farm regulations, and also, unlike the private marketing agreements, directs the agency to take effects on wildlife habitat, small-scale and diversified farms, watershed protection efforts and organic production methods into account. FDA would have to propose any regulations for public comment and take input from farmers, consumers, scientists, environmentalists, and Congress. We urgently need new standards to keep deadly bacteria out of food. Private industry marketing agreements are not the answer.