Revere points out that the peanut industry (and the food industry as a whole) is learning that poor regulation is bad for business. You might run your business according to the highest standards, that’s not enough. If one of your competitors cuts too many corners and people die as a result, the entire industry will suffer, regardless of how exemplary individual companies might be.
Back in 2007, when a rash of toy recalls spooked shoppers, the toy industry actually asked the federal government to require lead testing for all toys sold in the U.S. In 2008, Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation that included this requirement, and also increased the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget from $80 million to $136 million for the next fiscal year.
Fixing the food safety system to prevent salmonella and other diseases is even more challenging than keeping lead out of our children’s toys, and FDA will need far more than an additional $56 million to be up to the challenge. With so many businesses suffering in the wake of food recalls, maybe the food industry could at least get behind allocating more money to food facility inspections and increasing fines to a level that might actually get businesses’ attention.
I’ve heard some people say recently that salmonella-tainted peanut products are much less problematic than other pressing issues, like the economic meltdown. I have two responses to this. First of all, eight deaths and 500+ illnesses might not seem like a lot, but they were preventable deaths. Our country’s food system, while undeniably flawed, already ensures that the majority of our food products are safe the majority of the time. It’s only right that we continue to improve on it as new conditions arise and we discover flaws.
Also, our confidence in our food supply is linked to our country’s economic conditions and our overall wellbeing. A single recall can drive multiple companies out of business. Too many recalls will lead to parents and caregivers worrying constantly that the food they feed their children and elderly family members might sicken or even kill them. That won’t be good for business or for our morale.
Let’s hope that the mounting toll of foodborne-illness deaths and recalls will be enough to spur improvements in a food safety system. In such a wealthy country, we ought to be able to trust our food supply.