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Trust for America's Health Applauds President Obama's Call for a Complete Review of the U.S. Food Safety System
Date:2/2/2009

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Trust for America's Health (TFAH) strongly supports President Obama's call for a "complete review" of the nation's food safety system. The latest outbreak of Salmonella tied to peanut butter products in addition to major E.coli and Salmonella outbreaks in 2008 highlight the need to modernize U.S. food safety policies and practices.

TFAH released a comprehensive report, Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply from Farm-to-Fork in 2008, identifying major gaps in the country's food safety system, including obsolete laws, misallocation of resources, and inconsistencies among major food safety agencies. The full report can be found at: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/foodsafety08/.

"The peanut butter scandal shows that our nation's food safety system is broken and is in urgent need of modernization," said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., Executive Director of TFAH. "The government failed to require a preventive standard for production and the oversight function failed at several points after problems were identified. The result was the tainted product was knowingly shipped to institutions who serve some of the most vulnerable members of our society." Levi went on to urge the President to "move rapidly to appoint a new Food and Drug Commissioner with a mandate to overhaul food safety operations within the FDA."

Approximately 76 million Americans -- one in four -- are sickened by foodborne disease each year. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, costing the U.S. $44 billion annually. TFAH has urged the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide detailed strategic plans to Congress with corresponding budget increases, so that crises of this nature are contained in a more effective way, or prevented from reaching the kitchens and plates of the American public altogether.

Some problems outlined in the report, Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food from Farm-to-Fork, include:

  • The U.S. food safety system has not been fundamentally modernized in over 100 years and has not established a preventive standard for food safety;
  • The bulk of federal food safety funds are spent on outdated practices of inspecting every poultry, beef and pork carcass, even though changing threats and modern agriculture practices and technology make this an unproductive use of government resources;
  • Inadequate resources are spent on fighting modern bacteria threats, such as trying to reduce Salmonella or dangerous strains of E. coli;
    • An estimated 85 percent of known foodborne illness outbreaks are associated with foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the agency receives less than half of the federal funding for food safety;
  • In the past three years, the main food safety function at FDA has lost 20 percent of its science staff and 600 inspectors;
  • Gaps in current inspection practices mean acts of agroterrorism -- such as contamination of wheat gluten or botulism -- could go undetected until they are widespread;
  • While 15 federal agencies are involved in food safety, the efforts are fragmented and no one agency has ultimate authority or responsibility for food safety;
    • For instance, the FDA regulates frozen pizza, but if the pizza is topped with two percent or more of cooked meat or poultry, then the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture becomes the regulatory agency;
  • Only one percent of imported foods are inspected. Approximately 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported; and
  • States and localities are not required to meet uniform national standards for food safety.

TFAH calls for a series of actions to modernize the nation's food safety system by using strategic inspection practices and state-of-the-art surveillance. Key recommendations include:

  • Establishing strong leadership for food safety within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a clear chain-of-command;
  • Repealing outdated end-product and processing plant inspection mandates and shift the emphasis of inspection practices to the prevention of outbreaks and illnesses through the entire food production process and supply chain;
  • Creating mechanisms that allow inspection practices to keep pace with changes in the industry;
  • Establishing uniform performance standards and best practices that are enforceable through actions including detention and recall authority and civil penalty authority;
  • Requiring food safety education for commercial food handlers;
  • Improving monitoring of foreign imports and international practices;
  • Creating uniform standards and practices across federal, state, and local levels; and
  • Strengthening the FDA with increased funding and aligning resources with high risk threats.

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority.


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SOURCE Trust for America's Health
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