Striving for safer food

House bill would give FDA more authority to prevent and react to bacterial outbreaks

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Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.

Anyone who has ever had food poisoning knows how painful the experience can be. Even mild cases cause severe discomfort and more serious cases result in days of agony and sometimes death.

The chances of getting food poisoning are far too great. The federal government estimates that 76 million people in this country suffer from food-borne illnesses every year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

Something needs to be done to improve the safety of food, and the House has provided a start. Last week it passed a bill that was motivated, in part, by the deadly salmonella poisoning outbreak that was traced in January to a Georgia company that produced and shipped peanut products.

The Food and Drug Administration was hampered by its own weakness while investigating the outbreak. The Washington Post reported at the time that the FDA’s normal investigative procedures, even during a salmonella emergency, were inadequate. The peanut company surrendered pertinent documents “only after the FDA invoked special authority given to it by Congress in 2002 under laws to prevent bioterrorism,” the Post reported.

This kind of delay would not happen under a strengthened FDA, as outlined in the bill that was introduced by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. “Americans are dying because the FDA doesn’t have the authority to protect them,” Dingell said.

The Associated Press reported that the bill would require greater oversight of food manufacturers, and the FDA would be empowered to provide that oversight. The FDA would have authority to move quickly in ordering food recalls and to perform more inspections at food-processing plants. It would also be required to develop a faster, more efficient system for tracking food-borne illnesses to their sources.

Many Republicans opposed the bill, including Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. He said it “goes too far in the direction of trying to produce food from a bureaucrat’s chair in Washington.”

The bill won’t produce any food, but it would help produce safer conditions where food is made and prepared.




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