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FDA Failing At Food Safety GAO Report Says

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, September 26, 2008 11:24 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Foodborne Illness, E. Coli, Salmonella, Tainted Spinach, Food Contamination

FDA only inspects one percent of produce GAO report finds



IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / fresh iceberg lettuce / jmsilva


The inner workings and failings of the Food and Drug Administration are being revealed in a draft report, obtained by the AP, by  the Government Accountability Office

The report reveals a regulatory agency with a hands-off approach to its job.

Only one percent of fresh produce imported to the U.S. is inspected. Combined produce from several sources, makes tracing any food contamination nearly impossible. Inspections are rare and when problems are uncovered, the FDA relies on the industry to do its own cleanup without oversight or any follow-up.

Sens. Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy called for the investigation after the 2006 E. coli contaminated spinach killed three and sickened 200 others.  The industry took an $86 million hit.

“This report paints a frightening picture of the FDA's fresh produce safety efforts," Boxer said to the AP. It "should serve as a wakeup call to do more to protect the nation's food supply."

Over the last five years the agency found that 40 percent of the nation’s more than 2,000 food plants had safety problems.  Half of those were inspected only once. The agency seized no fresh produce and failed to prosecute food companies.

Part of the problem is funding, the GAO concludes. As the U.S. imports more fresh produce, the number of inspections has not.  The FDA regulates $417 billion worth of domestic food and $49 billion worth of imported food each year.

Meat, poultry, and some egg products are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture.

Between 2003 and 2006, FDA food safety inspections dropped nearly in half, according to a database analysis by the Associated Press. After Sept. 11, a fear of the vulnerability of our food system, saw a slight spike in inspections which have since fallen off.

Inflation-only budget adjustments mean workers didn’t receive cost-of-living increases, and the gaps left by retiring personnel, scientists, inspectors and staff, have gone unfilled.  As a result, food safety guidelines have not been updated.

The GAO believes $3.5 billion would be needed to do adequate inspections ofthe 250,000 domestic and foreign food facilities.  # 

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