Public confidence in food supply must not be left to politics

by Josh Sosland
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“Trust is like the air we breathe. When trust is present, no one notices, but when it's absent, everyone notices.”

Warren Buffett’s often repeated aphorism is an apt metaphor for consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply. The entire food industry, including baking, has an extraordinary stake in maintaining the consumer confidence that largely was taken for granted until recently. But the forces determining that confidence are shifting rapidly, and the industry must be prepared to respond creatively and forcefully to these changes.

While the overall incidence of food-borne disease has been declining, incidence remains worryingly high. The recent E. coli outbreak in Europe underscores how damaging such problems can be. It was not long ago in the United States that the matter was of great enough concern to the food industry that it pushed hard for increased Food and Drug Administration funding. This effort helped generate bi-partisan support in Congress.

Now, serious moves are under way to cut funding for F.D.A. oversight in line with proposals that reflect intense concerns over the burgeoning federal budget deficit and a powerful libertarian streak running through Washington. The prospective cut in funding creates a true conundrum for the food industry that needs a strong F.D.A. but long has opposed user fees as a way to ensure an adequately staffed agency. Still, as the situation in Washington unfolds, the industry will need to think creatively, not react reflexively, if its long-term interests, which match perfectly with consumers’ interests, are to be protected.

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