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Approximately 76 million Americans -- one in four -- are sickened by foodborne diseases each year, according to Trust for America's Health (TFAH), The Gourmet Retailer reported. Of these, an estimated 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die, costing the United States $44 billion annually. In the wake of the latest outbreak of salmonella tied to products containing peanut butter, TFAH has issued a statement in support of President Obama's call for a "complete review" of the nation's food safety system.
The latest salmonella outbreak and major E.coli and salmonella outbreaks in 2008 "highlight the need to modernize U.S. food safety policies and practices," noted Washington-based TFAH. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, which released a comprehensive report, "Fixing Food Safety: Protecting America's Food Supply from Farm-to-Fork," in 2008, has identified 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, PhD, 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 dommissioner with a mandate to overhaul food safety operations within the FDA."
TFAH has urged FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide detailed strategic plans to Congress with corresponding budget increases, so that future crises can be more effectively contained or, better yet, prevented from reaching the American consumer altogether.
According to the TFAH report, an estimated 85 percent of known foodborne illness outbreaks are associated with foods regulated by FDA, but the agency receives less than half of the federal funding for food safety. In fact, TFAH said, FDA's resources have been cut in the past three years, as it has lost 20 percent of its science staff and 600 inspectors. And while 15 federal agencies are involved in food safety, no one agency has ultimate authority nor responsibility for food safety, noted TFAH, which called for a series of actions to modernize the nation's food safety system by using strategic inspection practices and state-of-the-art surveillance.