F.D.A. Details Its Food Safety Campaign

Source of Article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/us/01fda.html?ref=us


Published: November 30, 2008

After years of being criticized for its response to food-sickness outbreaks and contaminated imports, the Food and Drug Administration is stepping up efforts to convince the public and skeptical lawmakers that it is making progress in overhauling the nation’s food defenses.

The agency will release a report Monday that summarizes what officials call a “hugely ambitious” campaign to reshape its food inspection arm to root out safety hazards through things like sophisticated software and certifiers from the private sector.

“The goal is to radically redesign the process,” said Dr. David Acheson, the agency’s associate commissioner for foods. For imported food, for instance, that means trying to detect tainted products during the production process rather than waiting until they enter the country.

“We cannot simply rely on picking the ball up at the point of entry,” Dr. Acheson said.

The changes were first outlined in the agency’s Food Protection Plan, which was released in November 2007. In June, the agency was criticized by the Government Accountability Office for failing to provide details on the costs or specific strategies for carrying out the plan. Some lawmakers have repeatedly called the agency’s food protection efforts inadequate.

But in the agency’s report, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times, and in an interview with Dr. Acheson, the F.D.A. maintains that its overhaul is well under way.

For instance, the agency is hiring at least 130 employees to conduct inspections and collect samples. It has approved the use of irradiation for iceberg lettuce and spinach to reduce the risk from pathogens like E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella, and it is opening offices in other countries to improve the monitoring of food exported to the United States.

The first office opened in Beijing in mid-November, and more are planned in Europe, India, Latin America and the Middle East.

Dr. Acheson acknowledged that the agency did not have enough money to put in place all its plans. Some critics have expressed skepticism about the agency’s commitment to an overhaul and are calling for more drastic changes when the Obama administration takes over in January.

“I’ve tried to be open about when they come in and say they are doing this and doing that,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut. “But at every step, they fail on just such a large scale.”

Ms. DeLauro said the agency’s recent reaction to the discovery of the toxic chemical melamine in infant formula was evidence of its continued dysfunction. This fall, the agency said that any amount of melamine in infant formula might be harmful. But the agency then said that trace amounts of melamine were acceptable after they were found in formula made in the United States.

“It’s got to be so totally redone,” Ms. DeLauro said of the agency. “It needs resources; it needs better management; it needs less influence from the industry and more influence on the science.”

In addition to regulating drugs and medical devices, the agency oversees about 80 percent of the nation’s food supply, which includes keeping tabs on tens of thousands of manufacturers in the United States and abroad.

Given the cost and logistics of inspecting each company, the agency is shifting toward a more risk-based approach that would use vast quantities of data to pinpoint areas of risk and deploy resources accordingly. The offices overseas will try to build relationships with foreign regulators and develop information on foreign manufacturers.

For instance, the agency hopes that companies will hire reliable third-party auditors to inspect facilities because it does not have the personnel to do so. In exchange, companies would be cleared to import their products to the United States with less chance of inspection or bureaucratic roadblocks.

In addition, the agency is hoping to deploy a sophisticated screening program, used successfully on seafood, to better identify high-risk foods at the border.



Main Page

setstats            Copyright (C) All rights reserved under FoodHACCP.com

            If you have any comments, please send your email to info@foodhaccp.com