The only positive thing about the massive egg recall is that it may finally motivate Congress to pass needed food-safety reforms. Of course, the same likely was said in past years after people became ill from tainted tomatoes, spinach, peppers, peanuts and other foods.
Two Iowa farms recalled about 550 million eggs after salmonella had sickened more than 1,000 people. The size and seriousness of the problem is drawing attention to weaknesses in our nation's food-safety system and how slow Congress has been to address them.
More than a year ago, the U.S. House passed a bipartisan bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration more inspectors and more authority. But it has languished in the Senate.
Many people are stunned to learn that the FDA, which is responsible for about 80 percent of the food supply, receives only about a third of the food-safety budget and doesn't have the authority to order recalls of food that may be tainted with salmonella, E. coli or other contaminants. It can only request that the food producer do a recall.
The House bill would give the FDA recall authority and require more frequent inspections of food-manufacturing facilities. It also would set up tracking systems that would make it easier and faster to identify the sources of contamination and where food products were distributed.
These are not onerous regulations, nor are they new proposals. Dan Glickman, a former U.S. agriculture secretary and Wichita congressman, has been calling for these reforms for years.
"Congress should give priority attention to FDA, modernizing its mandate and authorities for the prevention of food-safety problems and making sure it has the resources it needs," Glickman wrote in a commentary in The Eagle two years ago.
The irony of the egg recall is that it is occurring just after new egg safety rules finally went into force. A decade ago, President Bill Clinton called for the rules aimed at preventing salmonella contamination, but they didn't go into effect until last month, too late to prevent or limit the outbreak.
Congress can't wait another 10 years before it gives the FDA the authority and resources it needs to better police and protect our food supply.