I did eat the vegs from China last night and am still upright...I think Congress either read my post yesterday or I have special powers or it's just a coincidence
- they started hearings today on this very subject....heard on NPR today that less than 1% of imported food gets tested...
Peril at the table - Lawmakers explore 'serious flaws' in food-chain oversight
By Ruth Mantell, MarketWatch Last Update: 1:16 PM ET Apr 24, 2007
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- In the wake of a string of food-contamination outbreaks, lawmakers expressed concern about the safety of the United States' food supply at a Tuesday U.S. House subcommittee hearing and called for improving the Food and Drug Administration's oversight.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said there are "serious flaws in our food safety net," and that not all companies have been forthcoming about contamination.
"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," said Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
About 76 million people contract a food-borne illness in the United States each year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO added that 325,000 of those require hospitalization and 5,000 die.
Food safety has grabbed headlines recently with incidents of sickness caused by contamination of common household products such as spinach, peanut butter and pet food. Industry observers estimate losses of $37 million to $74 million just from the recent California spinach E. coli outbreak, according to the GAO.
"I don't see the latest string of incidents as an aberration. It's becoming a systemic problem and it calls for systemic solutions," said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
The FDA regulates about 80% 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% of the food supply, focusing on meat, poultry and egg products.
The GAO's report is part of its "High-Risk Series" that intends to raise the priority and visibility of government programs in need of "broad-based transformation." The GAO noted that limitations on federal power to recall food -- currently food recalls are largely voluntary -- heightens the risk that unsafe food will be consumed.
"We've got to have mandatory recall authority," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "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."
Imported food in focus
Representatives also expressed concerns about imports, focusing on China. U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said it is "particularly disturbing" that China had resisted letting FDA officials inspect plants, and that "we must demand to have access."
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, said it's important to regulate imported ingredients as well. "If someone wanted to attack the United States through its food supply, we have a frighteningly easy way for them to do it," she said.
Several House members said the FDA is not given enough funding, with U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., describing the "failure of this government to properly fund the FDA" as a "scandal." Almost one-quarter of the federal government's expenditures for food safety inspection are directed toward the FDA, which is responsible for regulating the majority of the food supply, GAO reported.
"The FDA system for overseeing our food is all but broken. We inspect only a tiny fraction of the food we import," said U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
Waxman said budget cuts have led to a decline in staffing levels, and that the FDA has inadequate resources, standards and enforcement. Last year, the FDA's food division had a $135 million shortfall due to increased personnel costs and new terrorism responsibilities, according to an October statement from Waxman. Between 2003 and 2006, the number of FDA field inspection staff decreased 12% to 1,962, with a larger rate of decline in federal inspections, according to the statement.
In February, the FDA said President Bush's fiscal 2008 budget proposal would advance public-health coals -- improving the safety of the nation's food supply -- and called for an additional $10.6 million to strengthen food safety. The overall proposed FDA budget exceeded $2 billion.
Tuesday's hearing was the first of two scheduled on food safety. Next month the subcommittee will hear from the FDA.