Sabrina tipped me off yesterday that U.S. food policy was being discussed on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show. I’m glad she did. Nnamdi’s guest was Washington Post reporter Lyndsey Layton, who covers the FDA.
Nnamdi asked Layton about the FDA’s new and expanded role in monitoring food safety and the U.S. Agriculture sector; specifically addressing the 50 new regulations that are a part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act signed into law this past January. Layton’s answer revealed just how unprepared the FDA is to handle this new role (emphasis mine):
Well, there’s one that’s very interesting that I think, for the first time, the federal government is going to be on the farm telling farmers how to grow their cropsbecause we’ve had a rash of food-borne illnesses associated with fresh produce in this country, spinach, sprouts, cantaloupe, et cetera. And they’re finding that they need to create sanitary conditions on the farms. So the FDA has spent the last year, basically, going around, meeting farmers, trying to understand agriculture.
You know, this is an agency that doesn’t — never regulated agriculture in the past. So it’s got to get up to speed and figure out how to design a set of standards that farmers can meet that are flexible enough to cover all the varying kind of agriculture we have in this country from smaller organic outfits to large agribusinesses. And so they’ve been working on this. And that’s — those standards are due out, I think, within a few months and that’ll be interesting to see.
Oh yes, Ms. Layton, it will be “interesting” to see how an agency that basically knows nothing about agriculture “gets up to speed” and “figures out” how this whole agribusiness thing works. I can’t wait to read your hard-hitting WaPo stories on how the FDA is making a mess of everything.
Layton then discussed the FDA’s new power to initiate a food recall saying:
…under the new set of laws that Congress approved last year, the FDA will now have the authority to initiate a recall unilaterally without cooperation from the company. It doesn’t matter what the company thinks, the FDA has the power to do this.
And later when a caller asked her about meat processing facilities, Layton admitted:
Those are all regulated by the USDA. So the FDA really has not very much to do with meat and how meat is processed in this country.
Yet, Congress just gave the FDA the power to call for a recall on meat products. Oh yes, this makes total sense…