Today, Nov. 30, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to consider the implementation of legislation that would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enact food product recalls in the case of tainted food that might be seen as a health threat. The same legislation is expected to be considered in the U.S. House of Representatives in early December. What are the ramifications of food traceability, product recalls, industry reputation and food safety legislation?

The proposed legislation has had some close cousins that have seen great controversy. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was debated for a decade before being passed, but then implementation was shelved for several years until it was applied to produce, meat and seafood. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was proposed for implementation following the Mad Cow episode in 2003 as a means of tracing livestock movement. After great angst within the livestock industry, NAIS was withdrawn to a backburner position at USDA.

At issue now is legislation that will have greater impact on the food processor than the producer, however, some smaller producers of fruits and vegetables will be bundled into the recall process and that has drawn some concern within the agriculture community. The evaluation of the concept comes from agricultural economists Sebastien Pouliot of Iowa State and Daniel Sumner of the University of California. They report that food safety is a recurring headline this fall with a recall of a half billion eggs, and many other recent products including tomatoes, spinach, and fresh fruits, all of which have been voluntary. However the melamine-tainted pet food from China raises the issue of imported food being part of recalls.