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FDA activities do not adequately protect food

Monday, December 1, 2008

Statement of Consumers Union on FDA Food Safety Progress Report:
FDA Activities Do Not Adequately Protect Food;
FDA Should Request Recall of Contaminated Infant Formula

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new report on its current food safety activities shows some progress, it is not enough to adequately protect the American food supply. While it is positive that they are establishing five offices in foreign countries, the discovery last week that melamine is contaminating infant formula in the U.S. as well as in China indicates that much more action is needed. FDA should immediate ask companies to recall the contaminated batches of formula.
The FDA needs a complete overhaul, including but not limited to vastly increased funding, far greater staff and much more frequent inspections of both domestic and foreign food processors. While FDA’s progress report states that the agency has inspected 5,930 domestic food establishments during Fiscal Year 2008, a January 2008 GAO report analyzing the Food Protection Plan states that there are 65,520 domestic food production facilities in the U.S. This means that FDA is still inspecting U.S. food production facilities only once every 10 years. At this rate, we would not be surprised to see more problems like the salmonella that was found in peanut butter manufactured at a Georgia processing facility in 2007.
Further, FDA struggled for four months during the summer of 2008 to locate the source of a salmonella outbreak that sickened over 1,000 people. This outbreak shows that FDA should immediately implement electronic record keeping and unique identifiers for products, in order to make traceback quicker and easier.
FDA must also become more proactive and precautionary, rather than reactive. The recent findings of melamine and cyanuric acid in infant formula – revealed to the public not by FDA but by a Freedom of Information Act request by reporters – demonstrates the agency’s failure to exercise adequate precaution. If these two chemicals are combined—a possibility FDA is not so far considering— they can be extremely hazardous to infants. Despite this hazard, and despite the fact that the agency has known about the melamine in milk products from China since September, FDA has not yet requested any recalls of contaminated batches of the formula. Consumers Union calls on FDA to request a company recall of any formula with melamine or cyanuric acid.
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Ami Gadhia
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Jean Halloran
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