Foreign Policy Blogs

New audit of FDA performance on imported food recalls

With Europe’s E. Coli outbreak fresh in mind, many Americans may have asked the question: “How does our government handle outbreaks of contaminated food?”  A new audit of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) performance during 17 food recalls that took place in 2007 and 2008 may renew the questions about how unsafe food is kept from your plate.  The audit found the agency’s response to imported food recalls lacking, both in its effort to trace the root causes of contamination and even its guarantees that full recalls took place.

Although new FDA powers granted under the recently passed Food Safety and Modernization Act should improve the agency’s ability to conduct proper recalls, Gardiner Harris writes in The New York Times that,

“Audits of the F.D.A.’s oversight of the nation’s food system routinely find the agency’s efforts wanting, in part, the agency says, because its budget for such activities has long been inadequate. And although the new food safety law gave the agency extra supervisory powers, it is not clear how much it will be able to do, given that House Republicans have proposed cutting its budget for protective measures.”

Perhaps timed to respond to the publication of the audit, the FDA and its commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, have made an effort to identify what the FDA faces in ensuring food safety in a report titled, “Pathway to Global Product Safety and Quality.”  In a related article in The New York Times, Gardiner Harris writes how the FDA’s report outlines a daunting challenge:

“Government investigators estimated in 2008 that the F.D.A. would need 13 years to check every foreign drug manufacturing plant, 27 years to check every foreign medical device plant and 1,900 years to check every foreign food plant at its rate of inspections at the time. And with imports growing faster than the agency’s inspection force, those numbers have only mounted.”

The article also discusses the FDA’s attempts to coordinate with food regulatory agencies of foreign countries, as well as the problems with the regulatory chain found in the United States.

Posted by Michael Lucivero.