The bill will assure Americans that they won't wind up in a hospital just because they sat down for a meal, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday.
But the high hopes for safer food will mean little or nothing unless Congress comes up with the $1.4 billion required to enforce the changes.
With the House Appropriations Committee coming under the rule of the GOP, with Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston in charge, it's unlikely FDA will get the needed funds, Dr. David Acheson, former associate commissioner of food for the Food and Drug Administration, told AOL News.
"Kingston consistently pushed back on giving FDA more money when I was heading up foods programs, and I doubt he will change," the former FDA executive said.
The Georgia congressman has repeatedly said the number of cases of pathogen-caused illnesses does not justify the cost of the new law.
"We still have a food supply that's 99.99 percent safe," Kingston told The Washington Post. "No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn't there."
Without the funding, Acheson said, "then it will not be possible to enforce any new regulations effectively, which means that the public health impact of the new legislation will be compromised."
The legislation demands several improvements. Among them:
- The FDA will have the ability to order a mandatory recall of dangerous food. Government agencies can order recalls of defective hair driers, cribs and car seats but, previously, when it came to food confirmed to be contaminated with E. coli, salmonella or other killer pathogens, the most the FDA could do was request that manufacturers pull the dangerous food off store shelves. Now the agency can order the food be removed before more are sickened.
- The FDA will no longer just respond to food pathogen outbreaks but rather will work to prevent them, ensuring that food processors take effective measures to monitor and prevent contamination of food it handles.
- The food safety agency must establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables.
- Enough properly trained inspectors and investigators must be available to be the agency's watchdogs in its efforts to require more frequent inspections of food facilities to reduce illness and death from food poisoning. There will be increased focus on the riskiest, most disease-prone operations.
- The FDA will have the authority to demand increased inspection and tighter control on these imports. At least 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. The new legislation also requires importers to verify the safety of their suppliers and the food they ship.
Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, told AOL News that getting the funding to implement the act will be challenging.
"The FDA needs new staff, including inspectors, to carry out the mandates in the legislation, so getting those people in place will be key," Lovera explained.
But FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said she is aware of the problem.
"We know that the legislation did not include sufficient fee resources to cover the costs of the new requirements. In that, we will look to Congress to work with us to ensure that FDA has what's needed to achieve our shared food safety and food defense goals," she said Monday.
Acheson says that when fully implemented, the legislation will make the U.S. food supply safer, but it alone can't be counted on to keep consumers safe.
"No legislation could do that. There is an expectation by some that the president's signature will signal a reduction in both outbreaks and recalls, and I don't think either will happen," said Acheson, who has a lengthy history of conducting cutting-edge research on food-borne pathogens.
Keeping consumers safe is a multifaceted challenge that cannot be controlled by legislation alone, he said. "As we improve with epidemiological and molecular tools, I predict we will see more recalls and not less in the coming years. Ultimately, if the regulations are sound and the programs adequately funded and enforced, then we may see a gradual reduction."
AOL News questioned two food safety detectives today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They cheered Obama's signing of the legislation but agreed with Acheson that more is needed to get a firm handle on the spread of food-borne pathogens.
Last month the agency announced more accurate methods for counting cases of food poisoning and reported that 48 million people a year are sickened by the pathogens, over 100,000 were hospitalized, and 3,000 died.
This, of course, also takes money.
"From eggs to spinach to peanuts, consumers learn too often that the food they've already purchased is unsafe to eat after people have already gotten sick. Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks can only be effectively contained by preventing them in the first place," Liz Hitchcock, food expert with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said today.
"The FDA must now develop strong regulations to put the law to work for American consumers, and Congress must provide sufficient resources to allow FDA to fulfill its food safety mandate."