Is FDA's Food Protection Plan on Track?

A June 13 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, warns again that the Food and Drug Administration may not have enough resources and planning done to carry out its Food Protection Plan. FDA released the plan last November and said it will spend about $90 million this year and next to implement key actions, including identifying food vulnerabilities and risk.

FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of abouty 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including $417 billion worth of domestic food and $49 billion in imported food annually, according to GAO, which also examined the plan in January 2008 and expressed concern about FDA's capacity to implement it.

"From the information GAO has obtained on the Food Protection Plan," the summary of the latest report says, "it is unclear what FDA's overall resource need is for implementing the plan, which could be significant. For example, based on FDA estimates, if FDA were to inspect each of the approximately 65,500 domestic food firms regulated by FDA once, the total cost would be approximately $524 million. In addition, timelines for implementing the various strategies in the plan are also unclear, although a senior level FDA official estimated that the overall plan will take 5 years to complete."

Between 2001 and 2007, the number of domestic firms under FDA's jurisdiction increased from 51,000 to more than 65,500 while the number of firms inspected declined from 14,721 to 14,566. Since 2004, GAO has made 34 food safety recommendations to FDA; as of May 2008, FDA has implemented seven of them.

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