Contributing Lawyers

Canada

Cyndee Todgham Cherniak

United States

Susan Kohn Ross

Australia

Andrew Hudson



Salmonella Outbreak Is Painful to Watch

It is truly painful to watch the "gymnastics" the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are going through trying to figure out the cause of the current salmonella outbreak. Their first guess was it had to be tomatoes. That has proven not to be the case and in the process the damage done to tomato growers is thought to exceed $100 million, never mind how many companies have been put out of business. Now we hear it may be cilantro, jalapeños or perhaps it’s the tortillas!

 

 

On the one hand, the American public has ever right to expect the FDA and CDC to take quick action to keep the public and the food supply safe. At the same time, American industry has every right to expect the government to be reasonable in how it exercises its powers. What is clear is that this outbreak, like the salmonella in the Honduran melon assumption which preceded it last March, proves once again, the government has no idea how goods get to market, even if those goods are fresh produce and vegetables. What is also clear is FDA and CDC are playing a very dangerous guessing game. Neither agency has the budget or staffing it needs to do its job properly, but at the same time, neither agency is willing to work closely with industry, especially when things go wrong.

 

 

No one is suggesting that anyone at the FDA or CDC is acting with malice. They are just trying to do their jobs, but in the process they have yet again shown a remarkable lack of clear thinking. Perhaps this is yet another example of why the FDA needs to do a considerably better job partnering with industry to work out testing and investigation protocols. Admittedly, some testing takes days to be completed, but at the same time, the answer does not lie in more regulation, just better resources and clearer thinking. With the Honduran melon situation, the only clue was fruit at a salad bar. In the current scare, we have clusters of individuals in different parts of the country who apparently all ate salsa. So, what is the solution?

 

 

One clear answer lies in supply chain security. No matter which way you turn in American business today, compliance programs are the norm. In the case of food importers, most are reputable companies which recognize that their continued existence is inexorably tied to delivering fresh and safe food to dinner tables in America and throughout the world. As a result, many have top of the line track and trace programs, but FDA pays them no mind.

 

 

Just how much longer can we tolerate any agency working in such a manner? How many more businesses will the agency be allowed to put out of business before it is called to task? While there is every reason to support the intended goals of the FDA, there is also every reason to question how the FDA attempts to get there. So far, to be fair, at best, it has earned a "D" grade. It can and should do better and industry should demand that it does.

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