Modernize, Unify U.S. Food Safety System, Health Group Urges

Finally integrating the U.S. federal agencies responsible for food safety is one recommendation made by the nonprofit Trust for America's Health in a new "Fixing Food Safety" report that calls for a change in strategy. The U.S. food safety system, basically unchanged for more than 100 years, needs modernization, more funding, and a stronger and realigned FDA to combat the biggest risks, the report says.

"The major problem is that no one person is in charge," Jeff Levi, Ph.D., said during a news conference about the report, which is available online at http://healthyamericans.org/reports/foodsafety08/FoodSafety08.pdf. "We really haven't paid attention to giving the food safety agencies, the FDA and USDA in particular, the tools to do the job we expect them to do," said Michael Taylor, research professor of health policy at George Washington University and former administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Levi is an author of the report, and Taylor was one of three peer reviewers of it; another peer reviewer was Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The report calls for doubling FDA's food safety funding in the next five years and making HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) and similar prevention strategies central to the U.S. food safety practices, with uniform standards defined and adopted. A single official should be lead all of FDA's food safety functions, the report states.

Currently, USDA regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products while FDA regulates everything else. Other agencies involved are CDC, which monitors foodborne illness outbreaks, and EPA, which regulates pesticides and toxic chemicals.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach agrees there is an urgent need to modernize FDA. In a message posted on his agency's Web site this week, he says the modernization "must be both about formulating and implementing the right initiatives, as well as procuring the additional resources and authorities to implement them. Simply doing more of what we did in the past is a formula for failure in a world that has rapidly and radically changed around us. Changes are required across our entire portfolio from food and feed to drugs and devices, from expansion of the numbers and skills of our workforce to creation of a modern computer system and rebuilding our science facilities in the field and on a new centralized campus."

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