Obama introduces innocuous food-safety bill

Senator Barack Obama introduced a food safety bill in the Senate on Tuesday that outlines his intent to increase food surveillance, create a working group of stakeholders (including consumers) to examine implementation, encourage academic research on detection, and evaluate the effectiveness of the existing food safety plan. The text of the bill, S. 3358, is not yet available online at OpenCongress, but foodborne-illness lawyer Bill Marler has posted a PDF of the bill at his blog.

The 14-page bill concentrates on improving pathogen detection technologies, outbreak communication and coordination, and surveillance; it does not suggest any changes at the procedural level in food processing. The bill provides a fairly modest $25 million in grant funding to states and local agencies to build capacity (and no dollar amount specified for general implementation).

Nevertheless, it is an achievement for food-safety advocates that the topic has made the campaign dialogue at all. The proposed legislation is general enough to make no enemies and to have wide appeal to American voters, most of whom also like to eat hamburgers. When Obama gives his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in late August during what is likely to be the peak of the E. coli 0157:H7 season, he will at least have a food-safety plan ready.

Federal legislation moves at a snail’s pace, so consumers are probably best advised to batten the hatches this summer. A national salmonella outbreak with over 1,000 reported illnesses involving jalapeños, serranos, and possibly tomatoes makes a great argument for a backyard garden. (The apparent contamination of the peppers by irrigation water would suggest planting your peppers uphill from your livestock runoff.) Yet another massive beef recall (Marler has the scoop) suggests choosing New York steak over the burger. And perhaps the Connecticut raw dairy linked to an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak suggests that a family goat is in order.

Marler, meanwhile, has been engaged in his own campaign for food safety legislation. In the past two weeks, he has publicized several of his own policy positions and has challenged presidential candidates to take notice:

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