In a recent message to its members, Food and Water Watch says:
“Protecting Our Food: End Food Industry Self-Policing”. Consumers need strong standards and strong enforcement by government inspectors. The USDA must abandon attempts to let meat plants do their own inspections. The Food and Drug Administration needs new authority and resources to inspect food processing plants and should be reorganized so it can devote proper attention and inspection resources to imported foods.”
Food and Water Watch describes themselves as:
(Foodandwaterwatch.org is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink).
As practicing food safety experts, we have seen many improvements in food facility operations as a result of industry self-control procedures. However, a serious deficit exists when government fails to support voluntary, industry food-safety-systems with a public health goal in mind. To enhance industries efforts public health agencies should:
1. Create mandatory baseline requirements for the entire food chain
2. Effectively validate and verify industry efforts and coordinate them
3. Ensure firms create food safety systems primarily to protect public health making this their primary goal
While meat, fish, poultry and juice have mandatory food safety systems, not all of the food supply is covered.
In the produce sector, we have only buyer driven pressure on producers throughout the supply chain to meet voluntary standards. Many retail firms such as Wal-Mart, Albertson's and Publix require their suppliers to maintain detailed food safety programs based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. However in the absence of regulation (FDA may have primacy but does not exert its power until the fruit is processed), many non-compliant firms still sell to buyers in need of product.
There is no mandatory regulation and baseline of safety in the produce industry and many firms operate without a food safety system; while at the opposite extreme, we have exceptional firms with ISO based HACCP models controlling minute aspects of production from growing through distribution.
Industry self-policing is critically necessary in produce, however it is same in every food industry. This is the case because all day-to-day operation in any industry are in the hands of the firm. The challenge is for government to use its resources wisely and build upon industry efforts, while at the same time providing a strong safety net for the consumer.
Our response to Food and Water Watch and its members is:
1. Ending self-policing is not wise; we should strengthen self-policing.
2. Public health agencies should be more intelligent about the way they assure food safety for the American consumer and accept their responsibility for protecting the public health while delegating more of the monitoring the safety of the food safety system to industry.
3. Ending self-policing will not result in food protection, but just the opposite. Strengthening this model on the other hand holds a great deal of promise