It’s the kind of regulation that has an impact on every single American, as well as the kind you’d imagine everyone would be in favor of. For more than a century, the government apparatus that regulates food safety has served as a watchdog, protecting consumers from both fraud and food poisoning. Not to mention setting everyone straight on the benefits of drinking camel’s milk. Still, there are those that oppose these ideas as over-regulation, unnecessary taxation, and a burden on small businesses.
U.S.-backed food regulations go back to the mid-1800s, but the first sweeping legislation was courtesy of President Theodore Roosevelt who passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act on the same day in 1906. These were meant to safeguard both public health and push back against consumer fraud, and 21 years later, that mandate was used to form The Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration, which became the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1930.
Eight years later, The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) was passed, which replaced the Pure Food and Drug Act, setting the modern standard for food regulation. It’s still in effect today and is regularly amended so it can maintain its relevance in an ever-changing industry. But with the incoming administration taking shape, many of these regulatory commissions are already in the crosshairs of lawmakers. While the current regulations for food safety in the U.S. are far from ideal, with food-borne illness still a factor today, the idea of eroding these practices instead of finding ways to improve them seems counterintuitive.
Regardless, agencies designed to protect the consumer are under fire, and to get a better understanding of what we may be in for, here’s a look at what it might mean for the future.
The Price Of Deregulation
Despite alerting the public to the presence of things like wood pulp in food, there’s been a steady, concerted effort to deregulate the food inspection process by those who tout privatization dating back to the Reagan administration. This effort can be traced back to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an agency designed to meet the needs of the food producers while also enforcing food safety. Within their department, the office of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) who act as the USDA’s eyes and ears, and employs more than 7,000 inspectors working across the country.
This is where problems start to arise. The FSIS is entirely separate from the FDA, though the two share a number of similar duties, such as food labeling. However, the FSIS can regulate food from restaurants, whereas the FDA cannot. The FDA’s jurisdiction deals with products like infant formula, dietary supplements, and bottled water while focusing on overall consumer health, while the FSIS takes the lead role in dietary staples like regulating meat, poultry, and eggs.
However, due to the nature of FSIS’s inspection program, known as Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP), production companies (like slaughterhouses) are asked to come up with their own PR/HACCP plan, which the USDA then approves of and conducts random inspections making sure these precautions are met. This means that the responsibility falls directly on the companies themselves while they’re allowed to setup their own parameters for safety. This also lets them to decide independently if they need to consider diseases like E. Coli or Salmonella as potential threats.