Ex-FDA official calls for harmonized food-safety strategy

Source of Article:  http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=42444&dcn=todaysnews


By Anna Edney CongressDaily

An official who until recently headed the Food and Drug Administration's enforcement arm said Tuesday the nation's food safety system is in crisis.

"While I recognize the serious problems in the domestic food safety inspection system, I believe that the single biggest challenge facing us is the global market for food," Margaret Glavin, former associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at FDA, told food industry representatives. "Today's market is truly global, and this poses an enormous threat to our food safety system."

Glavin, who left FDA several months ago to become an independent consultant, charged that FDA lacks the funding, staff, and authorities to operate in a global market and lags far behind USDA in its regulatory efforts.

"Our regulations and our program design both envision a regime of regular inspections of domestic food plants and an occasional look at foods arriving from overseas," she said. "This is made worse by the fact that ... imported products are treated completely differently by FDA and USDA."

USDA requires countries importing meat and poultry to meet certain standards, and USDA officials must inspect foreign food plants before they can begin importation. By contrast, FDA does not require prior approval of foreign food firms and has the staff to inspect only a small percentage of imported food at the U.S. border, she said.

Glavin recommended that food-safety laws be modernized and all government agencies involved adhere to an integrated, governmentwide food safety strategy. "That sounds like motherhood and apple pie, but we are so far from that it's not even to be believed," she said. The web of strategies operating over several agencies leads to "inconsistencies and inefficiencies," while the lack of cohesion can lead to poor information-sharing that often prolongs investigations of food-borne illness outbreaks, she added.

Some lawmakers and interest groups advocate combining food safety efforts into a single agency. Glavin said such a move would help align strategies, but she added the costs of such a transition would be enormous. While more funding is a given need at FDA, Glavin said, food safety agencies need the power to require and enforce preventive measures and record-keeping as well as access to records. In addition, she said, food safety agencies need to gain the authority to require that importers put systems in place to ensure safety, and they need resources to ramp up foreign inspections and review other countries' food safety systems.



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