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U.S Officials Worried Over Failure In Preventing Food Contamination

There is increased concern over apparent failure by official bodies to halt the distribution of contaminated food.//

Recent top stories have been incidents caused by E. coli contamination in spinach, contamination of peanut butter as well as pet food.

Around 200 persons were affected by consuming spinach contaminated with E.coli. A publicized incident was the collapse of both kidneys of a three-year-old girl after consuming tainted spinach. Eating contaminated peanut butter incapacitated some others.

There have been apologies and pledges of better quality control by the companies that marketed the controversial spinach-Natural Selection Foods, the peanut butter – Con-Agra foods, as well as Menu Foods which had to recall its pet food after it was found contaminated with bad wheat gluten.

Says Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce: “What has the FDA done to prevent food-borne illnesses? It appears the FDA has decided to centralize food safety decision making in Washington D.C., cut back on inspections, and hope that food producers and manufacturers will self-police their industry based on voluntary guidelines.”

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office-GAO, about 76 million people contract a food-borne illness in the United States each year, out of which 325,000 require hospitalization and 5,000 die.

"I don't see the latest string of incidents as an aberration. It's becoming a systemic problem and it calls for systemic solutions," says U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette.

The FDA is said to regulate about 80 percent of the food supply, focusing on products such as fresh produce and seafood, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for about 20 percent of the food supply, focusing on meat, poultry and egg products.

The GAO noted in particular that limitations on federal power to rec all food (currently food recalls are largely voluntary) heightened the risk of unsafe food being consumed.

"We've got to have mandatory recall authority," says U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee. "It simply beggars belief that we don't have a mechanism in that regard. The industry itself has a stake in the ability to stop the loss of confidence is these products."

There are also fears of national security being compromised, in the wake of incidents like the recent deliberate contamination of pet food, from China. Senate members are calling for strict changes in laws and rules.

“Food-borne illnesses and pet food contamination demonstrate serious flaws in our food safety net," says Stupak. "With more and more of our food, fruits and vegetables being imported, there appears to be less and less government inspection or oversight", he added.

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