More work needed to protect the nation's food supply

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More work needed to protect the nation's food supply

 

By Sara Wyant

 

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

 

Washington, May 7 - More work needs to be done to protect the nation's food supply, according to two reports presented during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday. Both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) overseeing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended giving the FDA expanded authority to issue mandatory recalls, require food facilities to impose new safety controls.

 

The hearing, along with news that lettuce distributed in 23 states may be contaminated with E. coli and was voluntarily recalled, is likely to add a renewed push for food safety legislation which is still pending in the Senate, S510. The House version, HR. 2749, passed in July.

 

The GAO said imports are rapidly growing, making up 60% of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80% of seafood sold in the nation. The FDA which is responsible for roughly 80% of the food supply, including dairy products, seafood, fruits, and vegetables-oversees imported food safety through targeted inspections, sampling, and surveillance, among other things. Owing in part to the volume of imported products it regulates, FDA physically examines approximately 1 percent of imported food; however, the agency is developing the Predictive Risk-Based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting (PREDICT) computer system to improve its targeted screening efforts. And the FDA opened up several overseas offices to address the safety of imported food at the point of origin.

 

According to GAO, FDA testing of PREDICT indicates that the system could enhance FDA's risk-based screening efforts, but the system is not yet fully operational. FDA officials stated that a scheduled nationwide rollout this summer of PREDICT has been delayed primarily because of technical problems, such as server crashes and overloads, which are affecting FDA's field data systems nationwide.

 

Gaps in FDA's and other agencies' enforcement could allow unsafe food products to enter U.S. commerce, the GAO report notes. “For example, FDA has limited authority to assess penalties on importers who introduce violative food products, and the lack of a unique identifier for firms exporting food products may allow contaminated food to evade FDA review.

 

In a report on food traceability, the OIG found that only 5 of 40 selected products could be traced through each stage of the food supply chain, more than half of food facilities have gone five years or more without inspection and failed to meet FDA recordkeeping requirements.

 

To read the GAO report: 

http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d10699thigh.pdf

 

To read all of the testimony:

http://energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1994:the-role-and-performance-of-fda-in-ensuring-food-safety&catid=133:subcommittee-on-oversight-and-investigations&Itemid=73

 

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