Food Safety: Certification or Regulation?
A proposed Stoa resolution reads: “The United States federal government should substantially reform its agricultural and/or food safety policy in the United States.”
In an earlier post I focused mostly on agricultural policy reform proposals. I referenced a couple studies on food safety issues and ended with:
Government agencies suffer from incentive and information problems that waste money, slow innovation, and hamper alternative food safety systems. With this resolution students will have an opportunity to research the dozens of food safety certification systems that have developed to protect consumers, and to contrast them with top-down state and federal food safety regulations.
A major concern with food safety is possible overuse or misuse of pesticides and herbicides. Interesting to see how significantly U.S. pesticide and herbicide use has fallen, even as agricultural production has increased:
May 2014, the National Agricultural Statistics Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its comprehensive report Pesticide Use in U.S. Agriculture. The agency found that herbicide usage peaked at 478 million pounds in 1981—a decade and half prior to the introduction of the first biotech crop varieties—and fell to 394 million pounds in 2008. So instead of the massive increase in herbicide spraying claimed by Benbrook, the USDA actually reports a modest decline. Insecticide applications peaked in 1972 at 158 million pounds, dropping to 29 million pounds in 2008. [Source: Chipotle Treats Customers Like Idiots, Aug./Sept. 2015 Reason]
My earlier post mentioned certification vs. regulation, but didn’t explain or cite references. Here is a 2011 post on Certified Humane discussing the debate over expanded federal regulation and inspection of food, and attacking the idea that private sector food producers and importers can “self police.” The article is critical of claims that the private sector can keep food safe:
The Chairman of the Appropriations House Subcommittee, Jack Kingston (R-GA) said, “The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices, because they have the highest motivation. They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 28,000 Americans are hospitalized every year and 3,000 die every year from tainted food.
Even the Grocery Manufacturers of America are in support of doubling the FDA’s food safety budget, in light of the recent food scandals.Rep. Kingston also claims the high level of food safety is due to the private sector without the “nanny” state. “That’s the private sector working,” he’s quoted as saying.
In reality, do you want to risk your life and the lives of your families on Rep. Kingston’s fantasy? We saw the result of de-regulation and lack of oversight in the financial sector, as we watched homes being foreclosed and savings and pension plans evaporating
If you want the FDA and the Food Safety Inspection Service at USDA fully funded, please write your Senators and let them know they need to put the funding back to provide us with safe food oversight. http://www.senate.gov/
So, according to the article, increased federal funding for FDA and USDA inspectors could save lives, and those who say the private sector can “self-police” to keep food safe are living in a fantasy world.
Actually claims that industry wants to “self-police” are themselves the fantasy world in the sense of being ritualistic straw men used by those calling for more federal funding and regulation. Instead, the real world food industry relies on independent food safety certification organizations. These are generally NGOs (non-government organizations), though they have to deal with regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA.
Here is page for Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Certification with this
Due to complex challenges in today’s food supply chain, many of the world’s largest food retailers are mandating supplier certification to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) schemes, which include SQF, BRC, IFS, FSSC, GLOBALG.A.P. and BAP and CanadaGAP.
NSF companies are the leading global certifier to GFSI benchmarked standards, with exceptional technical expertise, consistently calibrated auditors and capacity for a timely path to certification.
GFSI was established to ensure confidence in the delivery of safer food to consumers, while continuing to improve food safety throughout the supply chain. These global standards address food, packaging, packaging materials, storage and distribution for primary producers, manufacturers and distributors.
So Third-Party Certification is key. Big grocery chains like Kroger and Safeway would like to believe the farms and food-processors who deliver food to their shelves each day are clean and modern facilities with strict procedures to keep equipment clean and free of microbes. However, instead of wishful thinking the food industry runs on “trust, but verify.” They can’t afford to just believe what suppliers claim, nor can most afford to hire their own inspectors to investigate each supplier. And they can’t rely on government agencies like the FDA or USDA alone, since these politicized and bureaucratic organization have many incentive and information problems, and are unlikely to be up to speed with the latest technologies and data analytics.
So, instead, private sector firms rely on certification. Here is the NSF page: What Is Third-Party Certification?
Third-party certification means that an independent organization has reviewed the manufacturing process of a product and has independently determined that the final product complies with specific standards for safety, quality or performance. This review typically includes comprehensive formulation/material reviews, testing and facility inspections. Most certified products bear the certifier’s mark on their packaging to help consumers and other buyers make educated purchasing decisions.
Recognized by regulatory agencies at the local, state, federal and international level, NSF certification demonstrates that a product complies with all standard requirements. NSF conducts periodic facility audits and product testing to verify that the product continues to comply with the standard. See the complete NSF product listings.
NSF’s programs include testing and certifying drinking water treatment products and water filters, commercial food service equipment and a wide array of consumer products such as bottled water, nutritional supplements, private label goods, personal care items and home appliances (washers, dryers and dishwashers).
Why Do Companies Seek NSF Certification?
Independent, third-party testing and certification through NSF helps organizations:
• Demonstrate compliance with national or international standards and regulations• Demonstrate independent validation and verification of their commitment to safety and quality• Increase credibility and acceptance with retailers, consumers and regulators• Benefit from enhanced product quality and safety
Below is my (lightly edited) 2013 comment on Travis Herche post on a proposed 2013 Stoa resolution: “Resolved: That the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling and safety policies should be significantly reformed.”