Perhaps the Food and Drug Administration should spend less time spooning under the covers with the pharmaceutical industry and more time fulfilling its mission to protect and advance the public health. As reported in the Washington Post, the FDA has failed, of late, to provide adequate oversight of the food industry and is responding to criticism by suggesting that manufacturers simply need to police themselves better:
The Food and Drug Administration has known for years about contamination problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms that led to disease outbreaks that killed three people, sickened hundreds, and forced one of the biggest product recalls in U.S. history, documents and interviews show.
Overwhelmed by huge growth in the number of food processors and imports, however, the agency took only limited steps to address the problems and relied on producers to police themselves, according to agency documents.
Congressional critics and consumer advocates said both episodes show that the agency is incapable of adequately protecting the safety of the food supply.
FDA officials conceded that the agency’s system needs to be overhauled to meet today’s demands, but contended that the agency could not have done anything to prevent either contamination episode. [...]
The outbreaks point to a need to change the way the agency does business, said Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA’s food-safety arm, which is responsible for safeguarding 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.
“We have 60,000 to 80,000 facilities that we’re responsible for in any given year,” Brackett said. Explosive growth in the number of processors and the amount of imported foods means that manufacturers “have to build safety into their products rather than us chasing after them,” Brackett said. “We have to get out of the 1950s paradigm.”
Tomorrow, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the unprecedented spate of recalls.
“This administration does not like regulation, this administration does not like spending money, and it has a hostility toward government. The poisonous result is that a program like the FDA is going to suffer at every turn of the road,” said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the full House committee. Dingell is considering introducing legislation to boost the agency’s accountability, regulatory authority and budget. [full text]