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Report - FDA Needs Fresh Focus

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 3:14 PM EST
Category: Miscellaneous
Tags: FDA, Food Safety, Modernization Act, Salmonella, E. coli


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / fresh iceberg lettuce / jmsilva

FDA Reactive Not Proactive

The Food and Drug Administration needs a fresh focus. That is the conclusion of a new report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

The 500-page report, requested by Congress, says the agency is lacking an overall vision, is not efficient in investigating lapses in the food chain, and reacts too slowly when they do happen.

The chairman of the committee that produced the report, Robert Wallace, at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, says the agency is reactive and lacks a focus on prevention in the first place, though it does acknowledge the FDA uses some risk assessment and management tactics.

The report puts pressure on passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act – S. 510, which is pending before the Senate.

With about 76 million foodborne illnesses each year, 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 deaths result from Salmonella, E. coli, viruses and parasites. Within the past year, Nestle cookie dough, meat, spinach, lettuce, sprouts, peppers and peanut butter have all been contaminated and sickened or killed Americans.

The FDA oversees 80 percent of the food supply and the Act gives the Food and Drug Administration more authority and ability to monitor our food supply.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the committee that approved the Senate legislation in November tells Food Safety News that "modernizing our outdated food safety system--a system established over 100 years ago--is a matter of public safety and well being."

The hope is to get the bill to the Senate floor in June.

Modernization Act

Similar to legislation that has already passed the House, the Senate bill mandates registering facilities and requiring they evaluate hazards and preventive controls, gives greater access to company records, creates enforceable standards and mandatory recall authority by the FDA. The Consumer Federation of America says in a statement that turning over greater authority to state governments for an unfunded mandate is not realistic. Center for Science in the Public Interest also thinks the recommendations are destined to fail.

The FDA recently created the Office of Foods to coordinate food safety policies. The IOM reports it continues to be reactive rather than proactive and the agency lacks the ability to collect, analyze and interpret data.

An earlier General Accounting Office report found that with up to 80 percent of America’s product and seafood imported, FDA has no means to punish foreign importers who violate U.S. safety rules.

On average, the FDA inspects less than one quarter of food facilities every year with that number declining over time due to the agency’s declining staff. And more than half (56%) of food facilities have gone five years or longer without an inspection, the OIG report finds. #

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