Safer food for Americans

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A lot of folks believe Barack Obama to be a man of many talents. One of them had better be the ability to juggle a wide range of major problems at the same time.

The inauguration is still several days away, but the Obama team has been running in overdrive for weeks. Obamaís cabinet is taking shape, the president-elect is issuing challenges to Congress as though he were, in fact, the sitting president, and he has appointed squads of experts to tackle specific chores.

The Obama administration will be dealing with a national economy thatís already in intensive care. There are wars on two fronts, with loud voices here shouting at Obama to bring U.S. troops home, now. And then there is a sharply divided Congress that requires a lot of coddling.

Letís hope food safety does not get lost in the scramble.

It may not sound like such a big thing compared to those other storm fronts, but reformation and realignment of the Food and Drug Administration is a critically important issue that needs to have a prominent place on the Obama administrationís to-do list.

The FDA was once the worldwide model for food safety, the envy of governments that could only hope to protect their nationís food chain as well as the United States did. Those days are long gone. Eight years of benign neglect ó or worse ó by a Bush administration that didnít care much for government regulation have turned the FDA into a political tool ó and not a very good one at that.

Each year for the past several years, nearly 80 million Americans have fallen victim to food-borne illnesses, and about 5,000 do not survive. In many cases, the illnesses have slipped through the FDAís supposed safety net, due to lack of inspections or pure disinterest.

There have been outbreaks of salmonella and e.coli whose sources have been a mystery for weeks, in large part because the FDA failed to respond with an appropriate investigation. In 2007, fewer food-processing companies were inspected by the FDA than were checked in 2001.

Food safety needs a place at the Obama administrationís table. Many food-borne illnesses can be stopped at the source, which requires more diligence from the FDA.

January 15, 2009



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