The Food Ethics Lecture series continued on Monday, November 14, with a lecture and seminar with Caroline Smith DeWaal, Director of the Food Safety Program for The Center for Science in the Public Interest. The afternoon lecture, entitled “The Food Safety Modernization Act: Creating a Level Playing Field that Promotes Ethics in the Industry,” presented the context and content of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January 2011. Antiquated laws have led to a crisis in confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply. Large outbreaks linked to cantaloupes, eggs, and peanut butter have caused consumers and Congress to question the effectiveness of the food safety program run by the Food and Drug Administration. The new law gives FDA greater authority to require and oversee industry-run food safety control programs. Bringing light to the particular series of political compromises that led to the passing of the law, DeWaal raised some pertinent questions for audience discussion: Will the new law provide enough new protections to restore consumer confidence? Can companies be trusted to improve the safety of the food supply?
The debate on whether we can trust industry to improve food safety continued in the Food Ethics evening seminar “Is the Fox Guarding the Hen House? The theory behind new food safety system.” Seminar attendees participated in a dynamic discussion of the pros and cons of industry self-regulation and key elements of government oversight. Differences in existing government programs, particularly those between the FDA and USDA, were highlighted. While making industry systematically responsible for assessing the safety of food, particularly food imports, may seem to be beneficial for consumers, the sole reliance upon an industry motivated by profit without any government oversight raises important ethical questions regarding the role of both government and industry in society. DeWaal stressed the need for the government to hold accountable industry individuals responsible for outbreaks. Furthermore, we need to set in place initiatives which increase the traceability of pathogens in food sources and thereby allow the FDA to get to the site of production faster. DeWaal recognized particularly the limitations of the bill regarding the inspection of facilities, especially in current economically difficult times. A more comprehensive approach to food safety, while necessary for consumers, is as present not economically viable.
To view the lecture online, visit mediasite.