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New Law in US Aims to Increase Food Safety

Tomatoes for sale in Ranch Santa Fe, California. Many agricultural products are covered by the new Food Safety Modernization Act
Tomatoes for sale in Ranch Santa Fe, California. Many agricultural products are covered by the new Food Safety Modernization Act

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The United States is making the first major changes in its food safety rules since the nineteen thirties. A new law called the Food Safety Modernization Act will govern all foods except meat, poultry and some egg products.

It calls for increased government inspections of food processors. And it lets the Food and Drug Administration order the recall of unsafe foods. That agency has only been able to negotiate with manufacturers to remove products from the market.

The new law also increases requirements for imported foods.

But the law excludes small farmers and processors from the same rules as large producers. And it does not require sellers at farmers markets and food stands to meet the highest requirements. That pleases Susan Prolman, director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

SUSAN PROLMAN: "A one-size-fits-all approach would have put small farmers and ranchers out of business or prevented them from providing locally produced, healthy fresh food to consumers who want it."

The Consumer Federation of America says it is generally pleased with the new law. So is much of the food industry.

But Republican Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia questioned whether enough people get sick from food to justify the spending. The legislation could cost the government almost one and a half billion dollars over five years. That includes the cost of more inspectors.

Last month, federal officials lowered their estimates of how many Americans each year get sick from food. The new estimates are forty-eight million, or one in six people. One hundred twenty-eight thousand are hospitalized. And three thousand die.

The old estimates included seventy-six million illnesses and five thousand deaths. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made their last estimates in nineteen ninety-nine. Officials say the difference is largely the result of improvements in data and research methods.

They say the two estimates cannot be compared to measure trends. Yet one thing has not changed.

About eighty percents of illnesses spread by food are still listed as having been caused by "unspecified agents." In other words, no one really knows which bacteria, viruses or other organisms were responsible.

But in cases with a known cause the experts say salmonella is responsible for more than one-third of hospitalizations. And it causes more than one-fourth of deaths.

The findings appear in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson and Steve Baragona. I’m Jim Tedder.