As the year comes to a close, many publications are looking back on the year and assessing our nation’s food safety system. From the Wall Street Journal to USA Today and Reuters, everyone has something to say about the American food supply.
The Wall Street Journal focused today on the USDA and the number of E. coli outbreaks in 2007. Bill Tomson wrote about the Topps E. coli outbreak and the impact it has had on USDA’s food safety policies:
It took one of the largest-ever beef recalls — 21.7 million pounds of frozen hamburger patties linked to severe illnesses — in 2007 to make USDA officials question whether beef processors around the country were following safety guidelines when it came to E. coli contamination. The New Jersey-based Topps Meat Co., the producer behind the massive recall, certainly wasn’t, USDA officials said.
"When we sent food-safety assessors into the Topps plant, we found that their policies they had in place were not being followed nearly as vigorously as they had been just two years ago when we did a food-safety assessment in the same plant," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond said in an interview.
The Topps event led to several tough questions. The first was whether the Topps situation was unique.
"We don’t know if Topps was the tip of the iceberg and other plants have gotten sloppy, or Topps was kind of an isolated incident," Mr. Raymond said.
USA Today focused on under-funding at the FDA and what that means for American consumers purchasing food products regulated by FDA. Julie Schmidt wrote:
The appropriation is 12% more than the agency got for food safety in fiscal 2007. But half the increase will be eaten up by annual cost increases, including pay raises, and the FDA won’t get the other half until July — and only then if it has a performance plan in place that lawmakers find adequate.
"In the budget climate we’re in, any increase is better than nothing," says Scott Faber of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents foodmakers. "But we’re disappointed and surprised in light of soaring imports and declining consumer confidence." A broad coalition of groups, including the GMA, have pushed for bigger food-safety increases in the past year because of a string of high-profile food recalls. The Coalition for a Stronger FDA, which includes three former secretaries of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, has sought 15% increases for the FDA for each of the next five years.
And Reuters carried an article about foods imported from China and Americans’ worries about foodborne illness coming from Chinese imports. Missy Ryan wrote:
China is struggling to meet food safety demands from trading partners as it slowly modernizes a food production system still rooted in small-scale family farms, U.S. and Chinese officials said on Tuesday.
"China is a country in economic transition and it has a mixture of traditional problems and modern problems that both coexist," Wu Yongning, an official at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a seminar on food safety at a Washington think tank.
Those problems, he said, now range from improper food preparation on family-run farms to shortcuts taken on industrial chicken farms.