Food Poisoning Killing Thousands A Year In US
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Some 5,000 Americans die of food poisoning each year, while 325,000 require hospitalisation, a government study has found.

The Boston Globe, quoting data released by the Center for Disease Control, reported Friday that things are not improving, there has been no reduction in food-borne illnesses in the past three years, and that salmonella infections may in fact be rising.

The periodic major outbreaks, from peanuts infected with salmonella to spinach with E. coli, cause millions of dollars in losses to farmers and processors as consumers shun their goods.

The public's anger over government's failure to protect against corner-cutting producers has reached the point where Congress might finally give food-safety regulation the overhaul it needs.

The Food and Drug Administration is nominally responsible for watching over all food except meat and poultry (the Department of Agriculture oversees those). But within the FDA, no high-ranking official has overall responsibility for food safety, and authority is split among several offices. Last month, President Obama made it clear he wanted nothing less than complete reform.

The basic problem, experts say, is that the FDA has never made the adjustments needed to oversee a food supply chain that has changed drastically over the decades. It is as though the government were trying to run the military with World War II weapons and organisation charts.

Agribusiness hasn't objected because the result has been extremely infrequent inspections and no insistence on modernized production processes that could reduce contamination.

The data are daunting. Between 2003 and 2007, the FDA's main food-safety arm lost 20 percent of its science experts and 600 inspectors. The United States gets 15 percent of its food from foreign countries, including 60 percent of its fresh fruits and vegetables and 75 percent of its seafood, but just 1 percent of all imported food is inspected.

A recent hearing before the Congress on the peanut butter scandal showed that some large food manufacturers, which buy ingredients from smaller firms, are also losing patience with the system.

The head of the Kellogg Company, A.D. David Mackay, said it relied on plant inspections conducted by third-party auditors hired by the peanut-butter maker itself. In this and other food contamination cases, private auditors working for the producer fail to detect obvious problems.
Mackay offered several proposals for improving food safety regulation, not least a requirement that the government itself inspect annually any plant making a high-risk food like peanut butter.

What is needed to accomplish that, Mackay said, is creation of a beefed-up and consolidated food safety unit, either within the FDA or in its own agency, which would have the staff, scientific expertise, and mandate to bring food regulation into the 21st century.

Source: bdnews24.com

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