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FDA Lacks Vision to Keep Food Safe Posted: September 20th, 2010

By Jessica Hanley

Every year, food-borne illness affects Americans and can even lead to death. A recent report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council reveals how inefficiencies in the FDA fail to prevent contaminations.

FDA Lacks Vision to Keep Food Safe

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) frequently reacts to food-borne illnesses through recalls and consumer warnings, but what are they doing to prevent these illnesses in the first place? According to a new report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, the FDA is not doing enough.

The FDA's current methods

The report, released in June 2010, concluded that the FDA's resources are inefficiently organized and spread too thin, making the agency ineffective at preventing outbreaks. Instead of reacting to threats on a case-by-case basis, the report recommends the FDA focus on high-risk foods and prevention techniques. Robert Wallace, chair of the report's committee and professor at the University of Iowa's College of Public Health, called updating the nation's food safety system "imperative."


"FDA uses some risk assessment and management tactics, but the agency's approach is too often reactive and lacks a systematic focus on prevention," Wallace said. "Our report's recommendations aim to help FDA achieve a comprehensive vision for proactively protecting against threats to the nation's food supply."

Currently, the FDA oversees 80 percent of the country's food supply, including fruits, vegetables, seafood and dairy products. The report recommends the FDA coordinate efforts with the Agriculture Department (responsible for meat, poultry and certain egg products) and other government agencies responsible for food safety.

Congress may provide legislative solutions

The report's findings came as no surprise to members of Congress, who recognized failures in food safety in 2008 and requested the report.

"This report reaffirms what we all know, and what I have been saying for years: our food safety system is not working," said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

The Senate is also responding to the report by turning its attention to food safety legislation passed by the House last year. The legislation covers many of the report's recommendations, including giving the FDA power to force company recalls.

"Modernizing our outdated food safety system--a system established over 100 years ago--is a matter of public safety and well being," said Senator Rob Harkin. "The gaps in oversight that [the Institute of Medicine] has identified reinforce the need for the Senate to move on this legislation as soon as possible."

The proposed Senate bill would turn many of the report's recommendations into law, making food processing facilities more accountable to the FDA.

Hopefully, government action inspired by the report will reduce the incidence of food-borne illness in the United States. If you find yourself suffering from food-borne illness, see a doctor--your health insurance plan should cover any necessary treatment.