14 January, 2013
From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report in Special English.
Each year, bad food sickens about one in six Americans. Proposed new rules aim to improve food safety. Officials say the changes could prevent more than one million cases of food-related illnesses each year.
The new rules were proposed this month, exactly two years after President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act. The rules are the first step in putting the law into effect, making the biggest changes in food safety since the 1930s.
The law makes the Food and Drug Administration responsible for preventing foodborne illnesses. Experts say this is a change from the role that the FDA has played in the past in reacting to disease outbreaks.
Congress passed the law after a series of outbreaks linked to bagged spinach, peanut butter and other foods. Margaret Hamburg is commissioner of the FDA.
They occurred because of problems that would have been addressed by these kinds of approaches. So I think, you know, we're very optimistic that we will begin to see real change."
The agency is proposing to require food manufacturers to show that they have identified where contamination is most likely to happen. Manufacturers would also have to show that they have taken steps to prevent it. The proposed rules also deal with safety in growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that establishing all of the provisions of the law will cost the government $1.4 billion. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, an industry group, has not released an estimate of what it will cost producers.
But FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor says the new rules are worth the price.
"Even if you just look at estimated reductions in illness, but if you also take into account avoiding disruption of the food supply and the loss of confidence in those commodities by consumers, so I think we'll see that the benefits substantially outweigh the costs of implementation."
Caroline Smith-DeWaal is director for food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says the rules should have been released a year ago.
"We're really happy that the new rules have come out. They're a little late."
And she notes that they are not finished.
"The bigger question is, where are the rules on imports that haven't been released yet?"
The FDA says about 15 percent of food eaten by Americans is imported, and that share is growing. Rules have not been released yet to require imported foods to meet the same standards as food produced in the United States. But the agency says they are coming soon.
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