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FDA Seeks Food Recall Authority

New powers, endorsed by Bush, would affect both domestic and imported items, agency says

TUESDAY, Nov. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Rocked by recent U.S. outbreaks of illness linked to domestic and imported foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will ask Congress to give it the authority to force food manufacturers and distributors to recall hazardous foods, FDA officials announced Tuesday.

Currently, the agency can only ask manufacturers and distributors to voluntarily recall contaminated foods.

The FDA's request is part of its new "Food Protection Plan," a component of the larger "Import Safety Action Plan" that was presented to the White House Tuesday.

Upon the plan's submission, President Bush said the FDA should be granted the power of recall for unsafe foods.

"With this authority, the FDA will be in a better position to act quickly if any problem occurs," Bush said, according to wire reports.

"The plan has 50 recommendations in 14 areas of ways to address the problem of safety in all of our imports," Tevi Troy, a deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said at an afternoon teleconference Tuesday.

The food protection plan will be comprehensive approach to the problem, Troy added. "The idea is to look at the total lifecycle of the food -- from when it's in the ground to when it goes into the consumer's mouth," he said.

The code words are prevention, intervention and response, Troy said. The agency also hopes to improve the information it makes available to consumers and to communicate better with other government departments, he said.

In addition, the FDA wants the "authority to act to make the food supply safe," Troy said.

The problem of tainted food continues to rattle American consumers. Just last week, U.S. food giant ConAgra recalled 1 million pounds of ground beef due to an E. coli scare. That recall joins a long list of suspect food incidents that have grabbed headlines over the past few years. Products ranging from spinach to green onions to peanut butter -- even the food Americans feed their pets -- have been linked to widespread illness outbreaks and subsequent recalls.

Despite that, the United States still has the safest food supply in the world, according to FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

"But we realize the world is changing," he said at the teleconference. "There was a time when we produced the food ourselves. Now we've noticed that much of this food comes to us 365 days a year because it is being produced in other parts of the world."

"Globalization has radically changed our food supply and our food supply chain," he added.

According to von Eschenbach, these trends mean that the FDA needs to alter its practices to better ensure food safety. The plan includes both imported and domestic foods, von Eschenbach noted.

Among the other recommendations put forward by the advisory panel that produced the report:

  • Add more inspectors from the U.S. Customs, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Border Patrol in countries that are major exporters to the United States.
  • Strengthen the CPSC's authority by: making it illegal for companies to knowingly sell recalled products; authorizing the CPSC to issue follow-up recall announcements; requiring companies involved in recalls to report supplier and delivery details; and enabling the CPSC to impose asset forfeiture penalties for criminal offenses.
  • Establish a certification program for companies with a proven track record for meeting U.S. safety standards.

The advisory panel, established in June to study import safety, was led by Health and Human Service Secretary Mike Leavitt.

More information

For more information on the FDA's food safety effort, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Nov. 6, 2007, teleconference with Tevi Troy, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Associated Press

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