Editorial: The High Cost Of Eating

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Have you been to the grocery store lately? Yes, it is happening: food prices (along with fuel prices) are steadily rising. Last month, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., said he predicts retail food prices in the U.S. will go up between 3.5% and 4% in 2011, compared to about 1.5% in 2010.

Why are we seeing an increase in food prices? Well, for starters, bad weather situations in other parts of the world such as Russia and Australia have created shortages, and don’t forget the recent freezing temperatures in Florida.

This rise in food prices comes at a time when we have an unemployment rate of almost 10%. What will be the end result? At the very least, consumers will be tightening their belts — even more.

Food Safety History

As consumers are tightening their belts, FDA will be working to get funds together for its new job. With the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act last month, the agency now has a very tall order to fill: improve the security and safety of the nation’s food supply. The legislation is historic because it marks the first overhaul in more than 70 years of the nation’s food system. This pending overhaul, however, comes with a high price tag.

Right now, the law is expected to require $1.4 billion in funding. According to a Homeland Security Newswire Report, the $1.4 billion is to sustain the law for its first five years, which would include the cost of hiring about 2,000 additional food inspectors. FDA now has to figure out how to get the money and get the ball rolling. The amount of funding Congress will appropriate is still up in the air and, of course, not all legislators are on board with spending money this way.

Many of you are not on board with the new food safety law, either. The week the bill was signed into law, our eNewsletter included the poll question: “Do you think the Food Safety Modernization Act will significantly increase the safety of fresh produce in the U.S?” A whopping 77% of the respondents said “No.”

Make no mistake, though: this legislation will change the way many of you do business. Understanding what it is all about will be critical for your operation. If you are a grower who falls under the exemption (sales less than $500,000 annually), you will want to pay attention as well, because, after all, food safety affects everyone.

So where do we go from here? One big question that has to be in the back of most everyone’s mind is cost. How much will implementing this legislation cost the industry? What will it cost you? How will these costs be factored in to already rising food prices? These are the questions that must be addressed as FDA moves forward.

In addition to cost, what else do you need to know about the law? Well, stay tuned. In the March issue of American Vegetable Grower and on GrowingProduce.com, information gathered from numerous industry experts will be presented on what this legislation will mean to you.

To end on a positive note, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said in a recent Homeland Security Newswire Report that the FDA’s goal is simple. The plan is to work with public and private partners “to build a new system of food safety oversight focused on applying the best available science and good common sense to prevent the problems that can make people sick.”
Let’s hope that’s the case.

Rosemary Gordon is editor of American Vegetable Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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