FDA Conducting Fewer Inspections of Food Makers

Last year we were following a story the Associated Press (AP) broke with regarding how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was woefully behind in promised <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">food safety audits. Not much has changed, and Reuters is now reporting that, based on information released by a government investigator, the agency is conducting fewer reviews of food manufacturing plants. In some cases, said the FDA, facilities have gone over five years without an inspection.

With reports of food borne contaminations and related illness outbreaks, this dearth of inspections could potentially increase the likelihood of food borne disease outbreaks, said a report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) inspector general. Reduced staff at the FDA is to blame, in part, for the problem, reported Reuters, which noted that some 76 million people in the United States are sickened each year with food borne illnesses and 5,000 of these die, citing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is unacceptable in our modern society and an important reminder that we must provide FDA with the needed tools,” said Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, quoted Reuters, which explained that the Committee unanimously passed a food safety bill this past November that is pending Senate approval. In July, a food safety bill passed in the House.

Many of the problems seen in the FDA in recent years have been blamed on the former Bush administration. The agency was long accused of being corrupt and for a wide variety of issues, conflicts, and failures, with the highly publicized peanut butter debacle causing nationwide outrage. In the weeks before President Obama transitioned into office, scientists at the FDA wrote to Obama’s transition team basically begging for help and outlining a number of problems with an agency they described as “fundamentally broken,” reported The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) at the time.

Last year, the HHS’s Inspector General’s Office revealed that the FDA is not reliable when it comes to finding conflicts of interest, a huge issue between medical professionals and industry.

According to Reuters, citing a number of widely publicized outbreaks in recent years, illnesses related to food borne contamination outbreaks have cost the United States some $152 billion each year. A large issue, especially given that the recent report found that food safety violations are not appropriately handled by the agency that is responsible for the vast majority—80 percent—of this country’s food supply, said Reuters.

To compound the issue, the FDA has the ability to assign a facility with an official action indicated—or OAI—classification for those facilities which call for agency intervention to correct the infraction, said Reuters. An OAI is the most serious “food safety or regulatory” breach, said Reuters. The FDA did not follow up on 36 percent of OAI-classified facilities, according to Reuters.

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