Will the Food Safety Modernization Act now before the Senate improve our protection from contaminated food, in particular, from the large-scale outbreaks of the type we’ve recently seen in eggs and peanut butter?

Tom PhilpottTom Philpott, Grist senior food writer: Well, obviously no single bill can address all the issues we’ve raised. I guess my answer is: Maybe. The best we can hope for from it is a step, probably a small one, in the right direction. It won’t affect the meat supply, for example, which is one of the prime sources of hazard in the food system.

Then there’s the fact that the bill has industry support. Call me perverse, but I am repelled by the fact that legislation needs the support of the industry it regulates if it has any hope of passing. I realize that’s the way things stand, but if the Grocery Manufacturers of America supports the bill, as it does, than I suspect that it is overly friendly to the huge players that need the most oversight. In her analysis of the bill on Grist, Food & Water Watch’s Elanor Starmer writes: “S. 510 requires the FDA to inspect high-risk food processors — think the Peanut Corporation of America — only once every five years, and low-risk processors every seven years. That wouldn’t have caught the salmonella that spread like … well, creamy peanut butter, out of PCA’s Georgia facility in 2006, 2007, and 2008.”

So in that regard, the bill seems a bit toothless. The bill would increases inspections — if still to a too-low level — and give the FDA authority to declare mandatory recalls, when now “the agency can only ask nicely,” as Elanor puts it. So, small step in the right direction.

Michael BulgerMichael Bulger, master’s candidate in food studies at New York University: It will improve our protection from large-scale outbreaks. We won’t be in the clear, but outbreaks will be prevented.

S. 510 says that facilities identified as high-risk would be required to be inspected more frequently than they are currently being inspected. I think we can agree on that. This will increase the chances that inspectors will catch a problem before it develops into something more serious. If a facility has a history of poor safety standards, that facility will be considered more risky and should be inspected more often.

Foreign inspections will also increase, with the goal being an annual increase in the number of foreign facilities inspected. Imported food will also be checked at the port of entry, with priority being given to companies and countries with poor compliance histories.