imported-foodIn the third of its three-part series on US food safety, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published Health Day’s shopping list of US food safety solutions.  This last part focuses on what’s to come for food safety — changes are needed in our food safety net, but what changes are needed, and how drastic do those changes need to be?

  • Some have proposed a federal "superagency" that would take on the food safety responsibilities currently housed within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Some of the reasoning behind this idea was expressed early on in the article by food safety experts.

Dr. Pascal James Imperato, head of the department of preventive medicine and community health at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center commented, "Food is not produced, processed or distributed the way it was 20 to 30 years ago. Farming is now a major agribusiness, and it introduces a variety of problems that didn’t exist before. It’s much more complicated and can’t be addressed by regulations that were written 30 years ago."

And Jessica Milano, author of "Spoiled: Keeping Tainted Food Off America’s Tables", remarked, "You have a system that developed organically from the turn of the [20th] century. As economies developed with more commercial food manufacturers and multi-ingredient products, you have some overlaps and redundancies."

  • Mandatory recall authority for the FDA is discussed as an option for improving food safety, but some say recall authority is not necessary since companies typically cooperate when FDA approaches them about recalling product.
  • And, as mentioned yesterday, the safety of food imports is an important challenge going forward.  Today’s article once again focused on imports:

The need for solutions is taking on added urgency, with the consumption of imported foods soaring in the last 10 years. Government statistics show that from 2003 to 2005 alone, food imports rose from 9.3 million shipments a year to 13.8 million shipments annually. Now, imported foods make up 13 percent of the typical American diet.

But, according to Milano, "as the volume of imports keeps rising but the number of [FDA] inspectors doesn’t, the percentage of foods that is actually getting checked is getting squeezed."

The FDA’s own statistics show that its inspectors sample only 1.3 percent of all food being sent to the United States from other countries.

  • There is also much debate about the need for additional food inspectors, which is addressed in the article.  And an increase in food inspectors would result in an increase in the amount of food entering the country that would be inspected.  Imports and inspectors essentially go hand-in-hand.  FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach provided his views on inspections and food safety in regards to imports:

"But we realize the world is changing," von Eschenbach acknowledged during a November 2007 teleconference after the FDA presented its Food Protection Plan to the White House. "There was a time when we produced the food ourselves. Now we’ve noticed that much of this food comes to us 365 days a year, because it is being produced in other parts of the world.

"Globalization has radically changed our food supply and our food-supply chain," von Eschenbach added. And that means, he said, that the FDA needs to catch up with those changes.