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In the wake of recent E. coli and salmonella cases directly connected to the food chain, Consumers Union yesterday called on the US Congress “to mandate traceability for fruits and vegetables and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish strong safety standards for produce.”

According to the statement released by Consumers Union, it is calling “for more funding for the FDA to perform yearly inspections of processing plants, for the agency to develop operating plans for food processing facilities that insure safety, and for domestic and foreign food producers to be required to be certified as in compliance with these safety plans and with U.S. food safety standards. In addition, trace-back systems that include package identifiers allowing each product to be traced back to the field in which it originated are needed to further protect consumers from contaminated food. CU has also called for consolidation of the 15 agencies that oversee our food safety system.”

“The FDA should not have to spend its modest resources trying to track down the source of food contamination for weeks and even months, while more consumers continue to get sick," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “When foodborne illnesses do occur, it shouldn't be so hard to trace them back to the source. Congress should require modern electronic recordkeeping systems that go from farm to table. If Fed Ex can keep track of all its packages moving around the country, the produce industry should be able to do the same.”

KC's View:
Maybe the US government should ask FedEx founder Fred Smith to consult on the whole traceability question. In fact, maybe the government ought to pull together a panel of three or four top business executives – people on the level of Bill Gates, Steve Burd, and Smith – who could examine this issue and recommend a new system that wouldn’t just patch up an old and outmoded system that clearly doesn’t work.

Because some new and clear-eyed thinking is needed here as we look for the greater transparency and traceability that consumers – and the food industry – deserve.