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U.S. Urged to Start 'Fixing the Problem' of Food Safety
Date:3/25/2009

d the federal government to make these changes as soon as possible, as well as staffing up our critical food safety agencies."

Food safety has become an increasingly hot topic, with not only consumer groups but food industry representatives, government agencies and legislators crying out for change. In a recent radio address, President Barack Obama called for a fundamental restructuring of the food safety system. And several bills have been introduced in Congress to correct problems.

An estimated one in four Americans gets sick from food-borne illnesses each year, but the actual number is probably much higher, Larkin said. Of those people, about 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year.

The most recent failure of the food safety system was the outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter products, which sickened almost 700 people in 46 states this year. Nine people may have died from that episode, and U.S. officials have launched an investigation into a processing plant involved in the shipment of peanut butter and other products in the past that had tested positive for salmonella.

The report identified several key problems in the system, starting with what it called antiquated FDA laws that date back to 1938 and focus on reacting to problems rather than preventing them. The FDA regulates 80 percent of the nation's food supply, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture also having jurisdiction in this area.

"The FDA has no mandate to hold all food companies accountable for implementation of modern food safety measures," said Michael R. Taylor, a George Washington University professor and a former FDA deputy commissioner and a former administrator at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

He said the second problem cited by the report is too-little funding, and the third -- the actual focus of the report -- is the "fragmented and ineffecti
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