Federal Food Safety Working Group Invites Suggestions

The administration's Food Safety Working Group is collecting suggestions on its website for reforming federal food safety policy. Earlier this Spring, President Obama announced the creation of the Food Safety Working Group, chaired by the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. The President said in his address that the working group was designed to "bring together cabinet secretaries and senior officials to advise me on how we can upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century; foster coordination throughout government; and ensure that we are not just designing laws that will keep the American people safe, but enforcing them."

The Working Group's charge is to ensure the country has safe food, to enhance food safety systems by fostering coordination throughout the government, and to enhance food safety laws for the 21st century. Apparently, the first work product from the Food Safety Working Group will be a set of principles and guidelines for improving food safety. The Working Group is receiving input from a broad range of stakeholders about their ideas for improving the food safety system. Others are invited to send their suggestions for reforming food safety policy, along with questions, comments, concerns. The Working Group can be reached through the White House comment form, or on twitter (hashtag #WHsafefood) or at their Facebook page.

Interested readers of MassTortDefense should think about reaching out to the Working Group with ideas for food safety that properly balance the importance of an adequate supply, the need for rapid transportation of foodstuffs, the public benefit of dietary choice and food options, the harmfulness of excessive governmental red tape; the need to avoid significant costs increases to the consumer in this challenging economic period, the inefficiency of government bureaucracy, the diversity and scope of the food service industry and its complex, multi-layered linkage with the supply chain, and other relevant concerns.

Most importantly to litigators, any thoughts would be welcome on safety steps that will not support or encourage additional litigation against the food industry. The CDC estimates that, each year, nearly 76 million people are affected by some type of food-borne illness, and approximately 325,000 Americans are hospitalized with a food-borne illness. Ultimately, this is because many pathogens continue to exist naturally in raw animal foods such as meat and poultry. Unfortunately, most food illness outbreak investigations fail to identify the real culprit, and some even identify the wrong source. In many cases, the claimants (who mistakenly think they got sick from the last thing they ate) sue the wrong party. Arguably, a significant part of the federal approach to food safety should focus on consumer and industry education, i.e., food safety educational programs that span the entire farm-to-table continuum, educating farmers, producers, distributors, food-handlers and consumers.