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Food safety requires new legislation

NEW YORK -- Since 2006, the concept of food safety, as practiced by the federal government, has seemed oxymoronic. The recent concerns about contaminated peanuts and pistachios are but the latest in a series of food scares that included salmonell...

NEW YORK -- Since 2006, the concept of food safety, as practiced by the federal government, has seemed oxymoronic. The recent concerns about contaminated peanuts and pistachios are but the latest in a series of food scares that included salmonella outbreaks involving tomatoes, peppers and spinach.

With each occurrence, Congress thundered about the need to fix the way the nation safeguards its food supply, but little was done. Maybe more will happen now that President Obama has formed a Food Safety Working Group and selected a top-notch team to lead the Food and Drug Administration.

Aside from increasing the number of federal inspectors and the frequency of visits they make to the country's nearly 150,000 food facilities, a number of good ideas are kicking around the Capitol.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo, would give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls for contaminated food -- no more relying on the goodwill of businesses that might be tempted to put the bottom line above the public health -- and would require it to devise a system to trace food and produce from the farm to the dinner table.

Legislation from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would require companies to test for the hazards that are most likely to occur in their products and then have the federal government devise standards for what constitutes a hazard.

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