In 1993, US Vice President Gorerecommended that the nation’s food industry and regulators move towards a preventative system for ensuring food safety.

In 1994, USDA established the Office of the Under Secretary for Food Safety.

In 1995, FDA introduced a compulsory HACCP program for the seafood industry.

In 1996, USDA introduced a compulsory HACCP program (the “MegaReg“) for the meat and poultry industry. CDC introduced the FoodNet surveillance system, and President Clinton signed both the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Food Quality Protection Act.

In 1997, the Clinton Administration introduced its National Food Safety Initiative, the “Food Safety from Farm to Table” program, and the “Partnership for Food Safety Education.” And approved the irradiation of meat.

In 1998, PulseNet knitted together a network of public health laboratories to speed the detection and identification of disease outbreaks. The Joint Institute for Food Safety Research sought to bring together expertise from government, academia and industry to coordinate research activities. The Administration established the President’s Food Safety Council.

In 1999, FDA and the Treasury Department began to tackle the problem of unsafe imported foods.

In 2000, George W. Bush took office.

The President’s Council on Food Safety issued its Food Safety Strategic Plan in January 2001. The Plan contained the following recommendations:

  • The Council recommends the development of near-term legislative proposals to strengthen the existing food safety statutes enabling stronger prevention, enforcement, and record keeping activities.
  • The Council recommends near-term efforts to strengthen agency coordination to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Federal food safety activities.
  • The Council recommends the development of comprehensive, unifying legislation, followed by the development of a corresponding organizational reform plan that protects the public’s health by allowing risk-based allocation of resources and utilization of science-based regulation, enforcement, and education. This comprehensive framework should address food safety standard setting, inspection, enforcement, research, and education.

Earlier today, the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University – a Pew Charitable Trusts initiative – issued its assessment of the government’s response to this year’s outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul. The report highlights:

  • the failure of federal and state agencies to communicate clearly with the public during the outbreak;
  • the lack of organization, capacity and coordination in the government’s response to the outbreak;
  • and the failure of the federal government (i.e., the FDA) to establish and implement mandatory preventative safety standards for fresh product, even though the agency has the statutory authority to implement those standards.

What happened to all of the Clinton initiatives?

President-Elect Obama is inheriting a full plate from the Bush Administration. But he cannot afford to ignore the pent up problems in our food safety system. Reactivating the President’s Council on Food Safety might be a good place to start.

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