FDA Given an "F" in Food SafetyJun 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long been criticized for its handling of food safety and a recent report issued by Congressional investigators for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the FDA failed to carry out much of its own “Food Protection Plan.” The report is to be released today.
The GAO report is expected to tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the FDA has done little to put its plan—which the FDA released in November—into operation. The report says that the FDA “has added few details on the resources and strategies required to implement the plan.” The report also states, “In March 2008, FDA officials indicated that a progress report on actions taken to implement the ‘food protection plan’ would be issued in April 2008. In May, FDA officials told us that they had prepared a draft progress report, but as of June 4, 2008, FDA had not made this report public.”
The food plan calls for implementing a risk-based inspection system of food plants, “which is particularly important as the numbers of food firms have increased while inspections have decreased,” the GAP report says. “The overall resource need could be significant,” it says. According to the report, to inspect every one of the 65,500 food facilities in the US just once would cost the FDA $524 million; to inspect each of the 189,000 foreign food facilities that export to the US once would cost $3.16 billion. Monday, the Bush administration announced that it would seek $275 million more for the FDA for next year in addition to a three percent increase—$51 million—it was already seeking.
Meanwhile, the FDA announced that it was still working to determine the source of tomatoes contaminated with Salmonella that have sickened at least 167 people in 17 states, hospitalizing 23. Officials said that the outbreak was continuing and was not confined to either one restaurant or one grocery chain. Investigations continue over whether tomatoes from South Florida may be the source of the problem, said Dr. David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection for the FDA.
In February, Representative Bart Stupak—who has argued for years that the FDA wasn't doing a thorough job protecting Americans from unsafe drugs—said, if Americans "knew how little the FDA did to assure the food and drug supply, if the truth ever came out...people would be marching in the street."
FDA remains under fire for mistakes over international inspections and other issues, and Stupak—an eight-term Democratic congressman and chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House's powerful Energy and Commerce panel, which has jurisdiction over the FDA—has been at the center of an aggressive effort by congressional Democrats to spotlight what they say are problems with the Bush administration's position on consumer-safety issues. Stupak has been holding hearings on the safety of imported food, medicines, and medical devices and says he has a bigger agenda adding, that "It's a broken agency." Stupak also called for the resignation of FDA commissioner, Andrew von Eschenbach, MD and other top officials.