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Food Safety Self-Policing Debate Returns

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Governments from China to New York have recently instituted more stringent food safety laws and guidelines, amidst growing fears over bacterial food contaminants. At the same time, looming governmental budget cuts threaten to slash funding for the FDA and other food safety agencies. What's a well-intentioned food inspector to do?

She may want to consider instituting more self-policing by restaurants, at least if a pilot program in Maricopa County, Arizona goes well. Under the terms of the program, which is voluntary, food handlers at restaurants will receive extra training in food safety, and will be tasked with carrying out food inspection protocols. The pilot program will supplement, not replace, random inspections. But some inspections, under the terms of the program, will be made more perfunctory, cutting the high cost associated with them.

This isn't the first time self-policing has been tried in the food industry—and there's a reason it has not been universally adopted. The record is highly mixed. A 2003 investigation in the New York Times linked more self-policing to more tainted meat. And industry self-policing on animal welfare has been only moderately successful. The times when self-policing has been seen as most effective have been those in which the strategy was seen as strictly supplementary to strong governmental regulation.

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