Group In Food Fight Over Safety Regulations

Source of Article:


Posted by: Thomas Hendrick, News Editor

POSTED: 3:52 pm MDT May 26, 2009

UPDATED: 6:11 pm MDT May 26, 2009

BACKGROUND: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 76 million food borne illness cases occur in the United States every year. This amounts to one in four Americans becoming ill after eating foods contaminated with pathogens such as E. Coli O157: H7, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Campylobacter, Shigella, Norovirus and Listeria.

Every year about 325,000 people are hospitalized with a diagnosis of food poisoning and 5,000 die. The annual dollar cost in terms of medical expenses, lost wages and productivity ranges from $6.5 to $34.9 billion.

While most food borne illness cases go unreported to health departments, nearly 13.8 million food poisoning cases are caused by known agents -- 30 percent by bacteria, 67 percent by viruses, and 3 percent by parasites.

FDA and Food Safety: A new report calls for a radical overhaul of the U.S. food safety system, including the creation of a separate food safety administration with its own food safety czar. Many food safety experts and consumer activists are also lobbying Congress to spend more time and money fixing America's food safety system.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees 80 percent of the country's food supply, yet experts argue it doesn't have the staff or resources to keep up with its assignments.

"The FDA really has mission impossible," said Carolyn Smith DeWaal, Director of the Program on Food Safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's in charge of the safety of drugs, medical devices and the majority of the food supply. It's not surprising that the agency really has not done an adequate job in this mission of food safety, because it's almost impossible to do everything perfectly. It's lacked sufficient staff and resources. They don't have the inspectors they need and Congress is taking steps to address this, but right now we're still seeing the results of many years of neglect."

Currently, a dozen federal agencies share responsibility for ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply. "We're asking Congress to consider steps to separate drugs and medical device approvals from the food safety functions and perhaps even appoint a new commissioner of food safety and nutrition," DeWaal said.

Passing New Laws: Most of the bills on the table in Washington address the tracing of food products. The FDA Globalization Act overhauls the structure of the agency and extends food processing traceability recordkeeping requirements to restaurants and farms. It would also create production standards for produce.

In the Senate, the FDA Food Modernization Act would also expand FDA access to records in a food emergency, and require importers to verify the safety of foreign suppliers. A third proposal would split the FDA into two agencies -- one responsible for food safety and a second responsible for regulations of drugs and devices.

It also calls for preventive controls and stronger inspections. The new FDA would also have power to conduct on-farm inspections. "Comprehensive legislation should clearly include more enforcement provisions," DeWaal said. "We really need to give the FDA watch dog more teeth to do the job."

Center for Food Borne Illness




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