The Obama administration has promised sweeping changes in all corners of the federal government. We can expect the new President to push an ambitious legislative and administrative law agenda in 2009. What does this mean for food regulation? A partial answer may be gleaned by looking at the Improving Food-borne Illness Surveillance and Response Act of 2008, a bill Obama introduced last summer after he become the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Some things of note:
1. The bill appears targeted in large part on increasing the government’s “capacity” for detection of food-borne illness—both by increasing cooperation between local, state and federal agencies and by enhancing detection capability through proliferation of cutting-edge technology. The bill proposes $25 million in block grants to state and local agencies. As we’ve said before in this space, better detection capacity correlates to more detected outbreaks. More detected outbreaks translates to more food-borne illness claims and affects everyone in the food industry (especially restaurants and those selling fresh produce).
2. One of the five goals of the bill is to “Strengthen oversight of food safety at the retail level.” I’m unclear on exactly what is meant by this goal. Does this mean, for example, that Obama might be interested in granting FSIS the jurisdiction to inspect supermarket delis or butchers?
3. Also of interest is what does not seem to be included in the bill. Specifically, the two most talked about (and controversial) federal food safety reform ideas: (1) mandatory recall authority and (2) merger of FSIS and FDA food safety programs. Should we read into the bill that President-Elect Obama does not support these reforms? Time will tell. All that is certain is that change is coming . . .