Opinion

Controversial food safety rule shows why more transparency is needed at FDA

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Opinion,Op-Eds,FDA,Transparency

Opposition forced the Food and Drug Administration to recently announce it is reconsidering a controversial proposed rule intended to reduce food poisoning by implementing safety standards for farms where certain produce is grown.

The rule, first offered in January 2013, had several unintended consequences – especially for small farms and consumers – that far outweighed any health and safety benefits. The reconsideration is a welcome development for thousands of hard-working farmers and the countless number of American families forced by current economic conditions to live paycheck-to-paycheck.

It’s also a sobering reminder of why a more transparent federal regulatory system is needed.

The FDA didn't provide much evidence that the proposed regulation would have had the desired effects, in part because the agency didn't even know how much foodborne illness is caused by farming practices as opposed to food handling and storage.

In contrast, the cost to small farms would have been substantial. Small farms would have had a difficult time implementing the expensive provisions in the rule and, according to the FDA’s own analysis, would be more likely to go out of business as a result.

Not only would the proposed rule have threatened small farms, it may also have hurt consumers by making fresh fruits and vegetables more expensive for lower-income Americans. Families grappling with tighter budgets would be more vulnerable to increased prices for fresh produce, especially with global food prices already on the rise. With fresh fruits and vegetables out of reach, lower-income Americans may have turned to other, less-nutritious foods to satisfy their hunger. This increase in food prices had the potential to hurt consumers’ wallets and waistlines.

Given these problems, the FDA did the right thing in reconsidering its proposal and now will spend additional time gathering better data to support a new regulation that would be more effective at addressing the real concern of food poisoning than the previous proposal.

Moving forward, government agencies should better identify how a proposed rule will truly affect American consumers, the economy and the industry being regulated. The FDA should change the standards to reflect the lessons learned, and make sure that customers and farmers aren’t unnecessarily burdened by another ineffective good intention gone awry. It’s not fair for the FDA to require consumers and small farms to shell out big bucks without offering to verify that its rule actually does what's promised.

Better evidence before issuing the rule coupled with retrospective review could help the FDA ensure that the final regulation successfully reduces foodborne illnesses at the lowest cost to farmers and consumers.

Sofie E. Miller and Cassidy B. West are policy analysts at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
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