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U.S. Food Safety: A Shopping List of Solutions
Date:1/16/2008

ecent recall -- from spinach to baker's chocolate -- has been voluntary on the part of the manufacturer or distributor. The only food item the FDA has the authority to recall is infant formula.

An obvious fix would be to grant that authority. Is that likely?

In November, FDA officials released a set of proposals known as the Food Protection Plan, in which it called for recall authority for food products, but that plan is still making its way through Congress.

"I believe the FDA will someday receive mandatory recall authority, but it may be a year or two before this happens," said Doyle. "An act of Congress will be needed to authorize FDA recall authority."

However, one former FDA commissioner doesn't think recall authority would make much of a difference.

"It's helpful, but the professionals at FDA say that recall authority is way overblown in importance, because [the] FDA usually goes to a producer and says, 'We found a problem with your food and we need to recall it,' and the producers always do it," said Bill Hubbard, who was associate commissioner at the FDA for 14 years before retiring in 2005.

Overseeing Imported Foods

The solutions to the problems with imported foods basically mirror those for domestically grown foods -- creating a federal oversight superagency, a more balanced distribution of funding and duties between the FDA and the USDA, and granting the FDA recall authority.

The need for solutions is taking on added urgency, with the consumption of imported foods soaring in the last 10 years. Government statistics show that from 2003 to 2005 alone, food imports rose from 9.3 million shipments a year to 13.8 million shipments annually. Now, imported foods make up 13 percent of the typical American diet.

But, according to Milano, "as the volume of imports keeps rising but the number of [FDA] inspectors doesn't, the percentage of foods that is actually get
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