Government rules, laws won’t stop bad actors

The federal government, through the Food and Drug Administration, is proposing new rules to require farmers and businesses to do more when it comes to food safety. Of special concern are foods eaten raw, such as leafy green vegetables, melons, berries and peanuts. The aim of regulators is to reduce the illnesses and deaths from food-borne disease, such as listeria and salmonella.

Major food companies may be on board. They see the possibility of a public-private partnership to boost safety. That’s good.

Of course, the major food companies already have an incentive to produce safe food: the?billions of dollars in revenue that come from being a reputable supplier to millions of Americans. These companies already are doing more than required to ensure food safety.

Where’s the problem, then? With the exceptions to the rule. Namely, the careless few smaller operations that do not maintain clean processing facilities. Under the FDA’s plan, every farmer and food manufacturer will be required to take new steps, such as making sure workers’ hands are washed, that irrigation water is clean and that food safety plans are on file.

That all sounds great. But creating a rule or law ensures nothing. The government has inspected meat for a hundred years. If the government is so adept, there would not be meat-borne illnesses. Of course, there still are.

Yes, ultimately the goal is to reduce as many illnesses as possible. We still believe marketing by safe suppliers is the best answer. (“Buy our produce – It’s the safest!) And consumers can be educated to take steps to remain safe. Finally, a public-private partnership to educate growers and suppliers can help, with the safest suppliers having an interest in protecting their industry by educating the unsafe ones.