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In letters to Congress, several industry trade groups urged House and Senate leaders to quickly enact food safety reforms.
Undersigned by the Food Marketing Institute, American Frozen Food Institute, International Bottled Water Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Fisheries Institute, National Restaurant Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Snack Food Association and United Fresh Produce Association, the organizations pleaded with lawmakers and the new Obama Administration to modernize the food safety net in the following ways:
• Require Food Safety Plans. Congress should require every food company manufacturing food for the U.S. market to conduct an evaluation of food safety risks that identifies potential sources of contamination, identifies appropriate food safety controls and documents those controls in a food safety plan available for FDA review.
• Require Foreign Supplier Safety Plans and Build Foreign Capacity. Congress should build the capacity of foreign governments to regulate food safety and to require every food importer to police their foreign suppliers. In particular, Congress should require that food importers document the food safety measures and controls being implemented by their foreign suppliers, and to require food importers to make a foreign supplier food safety plan available for FDA review.
• Ensure the Safety of Fruits and Vegetables. Congress should give FDA the power to establish safety standards for certain fruits and vegetables -- when risk and science demonstrate that standards are needed. FDA should be permitted to work with states and others to tailor standards to meet local growing conditions and to ensure that standards are being met.
• Adopt a Risk-based Approach to Inspections. Congress should increase food safety inspection and should focus domestic and foreign inspections on facilities that pose the greatest risk of contamination that could result in foodborne illness or injury.
• Authorize Mandatory Recalls. Congress should give FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall when a company has refused to conduct a voluntary recall and there is a significant risk to public health. Specifically, where the responsible party refuses to voluntarily recall a product for which there is a reasonable probability that the food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death, the Secretary should be permitted to order the company to conduct a recall.
In related news, one of the leading candidates that will potentially be named to head the Food and Drug Administration is also calling for drastic increases in food inspection as a result of his view that the agency isn't adequately staffed to handle the growing complexity of food inspections.
Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who's reportedly among the candidates on President Obama's short list of prospective FDA chiefs (as is former Democratic National Committee chief Howard Dean), said food inspections are dwarfed by FDA's other responsibilities, which include the approval of medications and medical devices.
"The truth be told, the FDA is a failed agency," said Nissen, adding that the main problem is "that it is terribly underfunded…and needs to do more inspections, especially of foods brought in internationally. We are all very vulnerable. This has to be fixed and fixed quickly."
Nissen's call for stronger food inspections is echoed by industry advocates, who also second his contention that the agency is understaffed and overworked.