Roger Bernard, Farm Journal Policy & Washington Editor
The recall case with eggs linked to salmonella is again fueling a congressional look at food safety issues. Two Iowa egg farms -- Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms -- are at the center of the matter and there are a host of questions that are now arising from Washington.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking the matter "very, very seriously," Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said, but pleaded for Congress to give the agency more authority. Hamburg labeled current FDA efforts in this area as "reactive" rather than proactive. "We need better abilities and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable," Hamburg said.
Further, she said no eggs would be shipped from the two operations until FDA is convinced they are operating safely.
Already some 20 FDA investigators are on scene at the two operations, officials said.
And lawmaker attention has risen in the wake of the recall of 500 million eggs. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) is asking regulators why one of the farms in question -- DeCoster farms in Iowa -- wasn't investigated before this incident as there has been a pattern of violations on the part of that operation. In her letter to FDA and USDA, DeLauro said the situation with that operation "should have served as a warning to regulators and warranted additional scrutiny of the company's ability to comply with food safety standards."
Further, the chairman and ranking member for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said it would also investigate the outbreak. The panel sent letters to the two farms involved, seeking details on their operations, how they have communicated with regulators and more.
New food safety procedures did go into effect July 9 and FDA's Hamburg said that if those procedures had been put in place earlier, this recall might have been avoided. Those rules require producers to do more testing for salmonella and take other precautions in order to bolster public health safety.
The immediate impact of course is on food safety. It will also continue to keep food safety matters at a high profile in Washington. The House has already passed additional food safety legislation and the Senate is expected visit a package when it returns in September. But it remains to be seen whether there is enough time and space remaining in the legislative schedule for all the work to be completed before lawmakers head for the exits and campaigning for the November elections.