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Pioneer Editorial: Food safety an Obama priority

The Obama administration on Tuesday, following through on commitments to ensure the nation's food safety, announced key findings of its Food Safety Working Group. Appointed in March, the Working Group, representing a cross section of the administration, members of Congress and others interested in food safety, swiftly came to make a half dozen recommendations that are sound in policy and need to be implemented just as swiftly.

Specifically, the Working Group recommends:

E The Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture are targeting salmonella contamination by developing tougher standards to protect the safety of eggs, poultry and turkey.

E To fight the threat of E. coli, USDA is stepping up enforcement in beef facilities and the Food and Drug Administration is developing new industry guidance improving protections for leafy greens, melons and tomatoes.

E The Obama administration is building a new national traceback and response system including clearer industry guidance, a new unified incident command system, and improved use of technology to deliver individual food safety alerts to consumers.

E The administration announced a plan to strengthen the organization of federal food safety functions, including the creation of new positions at key food safety agencies and a continuing oversight role for the Food Safety Working Group.

The United States has the safest food supply in the world, yet all too often, outbreaks of foodborne illness still threatens the health of Americans. It is essential that the federal government provide a framework to ensure a safe food supply from the field to the table, and the Food Safety Working Group recommendations form a sound basis for getting us there.

"There are few responsibilities more basic or more important for the government than making sure the food our families eat is safe," said Vice President Joe Biden in releasing the Food Safety Working Group report. "Our food safety system must be updated -- 1 in 4 people get sick every year due to foodborne illness, and children and the elderly are more at risk."

The recommendations were framed around three core principles: a first priority of preventing harm to consumers, effective food safety inspections and enforcement that depend upon good data and analysis, and outbreaks of foodborne illness should be identified quickly and stopped.

Congressional action continues to probe federal agencies on their food safety procedures and effectiveness, and that must continue. But the Obama administration has taken an important lead role in an issue that can literally mean life or death.