More progress could be on the way. A House bill passed in July calls on food processors to register with the government periodically, implement food safety plans, meet FDA performance standards, and verify that the food they import complies with US law. Known as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a Senate version sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, and Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, was passed unanimously by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in November. The bill was scheduled to head to the floor of the Senate this summer, but has been delayed by health-care reform and now financial reform.
The bill “is just the nudge that is needed,” says Caroline Smith DeWaal, Food and Safety Director for the Center For Science in the Public Interest. "It gives [the] FDA needed new authorities to manage food safety from farm to table, through improved standards and more frequent inspections,” she says.
Under the current system, food manufacturing facilities might only receive visits from an FDA inspector once every five or 10 years. The House and Senate bills also give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls of contaminated foods.
Another notch of progress came in 2007 when California farmers created the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA). Over 100 produce handlers, representing approximately 99 percent of the volume of California leafy greens, are LGMA members. LGMA monitors compliance with accepted food safety practices through mandatory government audits. Because of the program, California leafy greens are now grown under a unique system that has become a model for growers in other states.
“There is now a program underway based on the California model to create a national leafy green association,” says Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “As in California, this will help on two fronts. One is to insure that farmers and processors adhere to the standards for leafy green crops,” says Mr. Kranz. The other is focused on research and “gathering new information to hone the regulations and make them as effective as they can be.”