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Consumer advocates and health experts see opportunity to put food safety programs on track

Posted Dec 20 2008 6:45pm

In response to a growing number of public health disasters such as tainted heparin, meat infections and recalls, questionable labeling and approval of certain chemicals and plastics, theInstitute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Sciences, the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have presented a united front in calling on the incoming Obama administration to address food safety issues.

The Institute of Medicine on Friday released a new reportHHS in the 21st Century: Charting a New Course for a Healthier Americastating that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) food safety system is not equipped to meet today’s challenges and that legal statutes for all government inspection programs need updating in order to stop food borne illnesses. The report includes a recommendation that Congress “should unify theU.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service and the food safety activities of the FDA within HHS and ensure provision of adequate resources for high-quality inspection, enforce­ment, and research.”

That’s where the consumer groups parted company with theInstituteof Medicine.  

TheCenter for Science in the Public Interestissued a statement saying IOM acted alone on that recommendation. The consumer groups say the USDA has a “well-functioning” USDA inspection program compared to the “dysfunctional” FDA.   

“While consumer groups and numerous members of Congress have supported consolidating all food safety functions in a single independent agency, moving meat and poultry inspection to FDA would undermine the strengths of meat and poultry inspection and overwhelm the food safety apparatus in HHS,”said Center for Science in the Public Interest in a press statement.

The Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Science in the Public Interestwant the Obama Administration to take the lead role in reforming food inspection and recommend that the administration:   

    • * Re-establish the White House Food Safety Council to coordinate and budget for all food safety efforts.
    • * Establish a commission under the Food Safety Council made up with members from government, industry, consumer and food safety groups and charge the commission with consolidating various federal food safety efforts into a single agency that will protect the public from food-related illnesses.
    • * Establish a position within the Department of Health and Human Services that will lead a new Food Safety Administration responsible for preventive safety standards and inspection activities.  

"The safety of America's food supply has suffered from malign neglect under the Bush Administration," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Comprehensive food safety reform is the kind of change we need. The status quo, after all, is killing about 5,000 and sickening tens of million Americans a year."  

Food safety isone of 13 issuesthe Government Accountability Office recently deemed “urgent” for the Obama administration to address to ensure the nation’s security and well-being.

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