Obama makes food safety statement: forms committee

U.S. President Barack Obama used his weekly radio – and YouTube – address today to bolster and reorganize the nation’s fractured food-safety system by forming a committee — the Food Safety Working Group.

President Clinton had a similar group 13 years ago.

Obama said,

“In the end, food safety is something I take seriously, not just as your president, but as a parent.”

Me too. But when it comes to the safety of the food supply, I generally ignore the chatter from Washington. If a proposal does emerge, such as the creation of a single food inspection agency, I ask, Will it actually make food safer? Will fewer people get sick?

In the initial parsing of the speech, the N.Y. Times reported,

Experts have long debated whether the F.D.A. should increase inspections or rely instead on private auditors and more detailed safety rules. By calling the limited number of government inspections an “unacceptable” public health hazard, Mr. Obama came down squarely on the side of increased government inspections.

Government inspections have a role. But it’s minimal compared to what industry can do. And FDA has no authority over farms, so problems with tomatoes, spinach and sprouts are not going to be solved by increasing inspections at processing plants.

Obama is excellent at setting tone, and that is the best that can be expected from this committee formation. Maybe it will send a message that everyone, from farm-to-fork, needs to get super-serious about providing microbiologically safe food. Maybe that will increase the safety of the food supply and result in fewer sick people.