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Reforms needed to protect nation’s food supply

For Immediate Release:
July 24, 2008

Editorial Memorandum:
Traceability, Other Reforms Needed to Protect Nation’s Food Supply

Washington, DC – The recent outbreak of Salmonella, which has now sickened over 1200 people and caused two deaths, has been extremely difficult to track down to its source. This outbreak comes after more than a year of problems with spinach, peanut butter, pet food, meat, and seafood.
The Food and Drug Administration urgently needs greater funding and the authority to do its job. We recommend the following:

  • Traceability: Food should be able to be easily traced throughout the supply chain. Processors must be required to mark food for easy traceability, especially of fruits and vegetables. The markings must be specific enough to extend all the way back to the farm(s) of origin. Traceback will benefit both the producer and the consumer by saving the industry from lost profits and reduce consumer confusion during outbreaks. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows that 86 percent of consumers support traceability.
  • A Substantial Increase in Resources for FDA: FDA is an agency currently unable to do its job and a significant increase in appropriations for the agency is essential. Fees associated with annual registration of food producing establishments could help ensure that FDA has the funds to oversee these facilities properly, but should not supplant an increase in funding.
  • Mandatory recall authority: The FDA and USDA must be given mandatory recall authority. Now, when FDA discovers a problem, it is forced to ask companies to voluntarily recall unsafe food. It is important that these Agencies be able to act quickly and order a mandatory recall when appropriate. In a national Consumers Union poll in 2004, 97 percent of respondents agreed that the government should have mandatory recall authority for contaminated meat.
  • Disclosure of retail consignees: The FDA should be required to inform consumers of the supermarkets, restaurants, schools, and nursing homes that have received recalled food. The USDA just changed its rules so that it will disclose retail establishments that received beef and poultry involved in a Class 1 recalls (posing a significant risk to health). It is time for the FDA to do the same.
  • Process Controls: Production facilities should be required to develop food safety plans to identify hazards and implement such measures to reduce hazards. Any modern food safety system must focus on prevention, and ensure that companies are building safe practices directly into daily production procedures.
  • Strong Food Safety Standards: Contamination can occur at any point along the food chain, including production, processing, shipping, or handling. Such contamination can include bacteria, illegal antibiotic residues, heavy metals, and pesticides. The same Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 80 percent of American support new federal standards for fresh produce. FDA must establish and enforce clear performance standards for all food products in order to reduce the risk of contamination.
  • Food Facility Inspection: All facilities regulated by the FDA, foreign and domestic, should be subject to mandatory, regular FDA inspection, with higher-risk facilities inspected on a more frequent basis – at a minimum once a year. Between 2003 and 2006, FDA domestic food safety inspections decreased 47 percent on average, Currently, domestic food production facilities are inspected once every 5 to 10 years, foreign facilities even less frequently.
  • FDA Border Inspections: FDA inspects less than one percent of food imports at the border. This must be significantly increased, especially for high-risk foods. For example, the European Union physically inspects either 20 percent or 50 percent of all imported seafood shipments, depending upon the risk of the individual product.[1][1]
  • Whistleblower Protection: Federal employees must be protected from the threat of being fired, demoted, suspended, or harassed as a result of providing information or assisting in the investigation of a violation of a food safety law.
  • Civil Penalties: Food companies must be subject to civil penalties for violating food safety laws. An essential element of any enforcement capability is the power to penalize manufacturers and producers for violating food safety laws as an inducement to come into compliance and a deterrent to future violations.

Jennifer Fuson 202-462-6262
Jean Halloran 914-378-2457