Obama’s call for FDA review welcomed

Source of Article:  http://thepacker.com/icms/_dtaa2/content/wrapper.asp?alink=2009-14307-650.asp&stype=topstory&fb=

By Tom Karst

(Feb. 6, 2:30 p.m.) President Barack Obama’s call for a full review of the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety oversight responsibilities was welcomed by produce industry lobbyists in early February.

In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer that aired Feb. 2, Obama said the agency has failed to meet expectations in recent foodborne illness outbreaks.

“At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter,” he said in the interview.

Through early February, more than 500 people have been sickened and eight people have died after they ate peanut butter contaminated with salmonella. The peanut butter has been traced to a plant in Georgia operated by Peanut Corp. of America, Lynchburg, Va.

“This outbreak with peanut butter has caught the attention of a lot of people in the Congress and administration,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

He said policy makers need to understand why the system continues to fail and remedy it.

“We welcome such a review, as we believe FDA needs additional resources to carry out its responsibilities,” added Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Specifically, Means said in an e-mail that PMA would like FDA to exercise greater oversight in produce safety, including mandatory recall authority and mandatory risk- and science-based food safety programs. Those programs, she said, should apply regardless of product origin.

Guenther noted Obama’s call to review the role and response of the federal government’s role in food safety actually began with the events of about two years ago. Various foodborne outbreaks have increased scrutiny for both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.

“Every time this happens, this has become a high-profile issue, and we have to go find an effective way to make sure that our food is safe and continues to be safe ... whether it is fresh produce, peanut butter or food they get for their pets.”

Legislative outlook

Despite Obama’s forceful call for a comprehensive review of FDA, Guenther said he doesn’t see any evidence Congress will be able to take up serious food safety reform legislation until the latter half of the year.

However, the longer the peanut butter stays in the news, the discussions figure to accelerate.

“The likelihood of Congress acting continues to be greater every day,” he said.

Guenther said the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry had a food safety oversight hearing Feb. 5, with another hearing set for Feb. 11 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“I think we will see more legislation popping up in the next several weeks,” he said.




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