FDA Head Says Tougher Food Safety Bill NeededOct 23, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Although a Senate bill seeking expansion of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety management is underway, the head of the agency says more is needed. Reuters reported that the bill enables the FDA to recall food; however, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the agency’s commissioner wants additional measures included.
For instance, Dr. Hamburg wants the agency to have improved access to food records during routine company inspections, to be able to inspect those areas considered high risk, and to receive funding to effectively manage these responsibilities, reported Reuters. "The legislation is a major step in the right direction," Hamburg said to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, yesterday, quoted Reuters.
The country has been hammered with dangerous, and often deadly, food pathogen contamination outbreaks such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Food safety concerns were particularly heightened following the massive salmonella outbreak that was linked to horrendous conditions at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA).
Although a number of other deadly and widespread outbreaks have plagued the nation in recent years, it was the disgusting conditions and ongoing negligence involved in the PCA debacle that forced serious food safety reform. The scandals revealed during the outbreak highlighted myriad problems with current food safety processes and prompted attention from President Barack Obama, said the Washington Post recently, who called for an FDA and food safety system overhaul.
Consumer groups and lawmakers have, like the Obama administration, been looking at and suggesting steps to revamp the outdated food safety system and update the FDA, noted Reuters.
The bill in the Senate mirrors House of Representative legislation that passed in July and gave the agency mandatory recall authority, increased food inspections oversight, and mandated food safety plans be in place in food facilities, said Reuters. Today, the FDA does not have the power to initiate a recall and can only issue suggestions.
Dr. Hamburg was previously quoted as saying, "I think food safety has been unattended to for many, many years, and that has compromised the ability of the agency to fulfill its important mission with regard to assuring the safety and wholesomeness of the food supply," reported the Wall Street Journal. "This is the time to really make a very concerted effort," she added. The agency has been harshly criticized in recent years for neglect, corruption, and a lack of focus, to name a few issues.
Senator Tom Harkin, who is chairman of the committee, announced that he plans on pushing the legislation "with hopes of getting the bill passed on down to the White House before the year's end," quoted Reuters. Hamburg urged the Senate to include some of the provisions from the House bill, such as the fees for the increased inspection costs and enhanced agency access to food production facility records, reported Reuters. Right now, the Senate bill allows FDA access to such records, but only if a food emergency exists.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Reuters, each year about 76 million people in this country fall ill with a food borne illness and 5,000 die.