If there is a silver lining in the latest food-safety scare involving a salmonella-related egg recall, it's that legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate that is intended to bolster the safety of the nation's food supply might move to the front burner. A vote by the full Senate on a comprehensive measure that would improve the effectiveness of the Food and Drug Administration may come as early as next month.
The outbreak of egg-linked salmonella has sickened about 1,300 Americans and forced the recall of more than half a billion eggs in 23 states, including Ohio. It underscores the urgency of food-safety reform in this country. The FDA can't do it alone.
The federal agency did announce new regulations last month that require egg producers with more than 3,000 hens to take measures to prevent the spread of salmonella. But the current outbreak began in May.
It involved two factory farms in Iowa with close ties to massive egg-farm operations in Ohio, including Ohio Fresh Eggs, the largest producer in the state. That business bought Buckeye Eggs, a farm company that was an environmental calamity.
The connections with business partners in Iowa, who have a history of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years, highlight the problem of policing integrated farms and factory systems that supply and deliver food nationwide. The FDA needs more resources, inspectors, and enforcement authority to crack down on risky food suppliers.
Apparently the agency didn't have enough manpower to visit either of the two egg farms implicated in the recent outbreak. Regulatory surveillance can do only so much to prevent unscrupulous operators anywhere from cutting corners without regard for contamination.
If one of the largest egg recalls in history doesn't spark increased oversight by food-safety officials of egg producers, what will? And if the egg scare isn't enough to get a bipartisan bill through Congress this year to protect Americans from more tainted products and food-borne illnesses, why not?