Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Food Safety Notes and Comments

The Safe Food Act is back on the table... just as news comes out that, QUOTE:
A Federal Court has ruled that the USDA failed to abide by federal environmental laws when it approved a genetically engineered crop without conducting a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS).
The Safe Food Act "...aims to help protect consumers from food-borne illness by consolidating the current fragmented and overlapping food-safety system." Currently, food safety monitoring, inspection and labeling responsibilities are spread across 15 agencies in the federal government. Here are a few examples:
Eggs still in the shell are under the jurisdiction of USDA, while FDA takes over once the eggs are broken.

The FDA has jurisdiction over frozen cheese pizza, and inspects cheese pizza processors once every 10 years on average. On the other hand, USDA has responsibility over frozen pepperoni pizza, and inspects such processors daily.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of pesticides and maximum allowable residue levels on food commodities and animal feed.

The National Marine Fisheries Service in the Department of Commerce conducts voluntary, fee-for-service inspections of seafood safety and quality.

Sandwiches depend on whether there is one slice of bread, or two. The USDA inspects manufacturers of packaged open-face meat or poultry sandwiches while the FDA inspects manufacturers of packaged closed-face meat or poultry sandwiches. "...the USDA inspects wholesale manufacturers of open-face sandwiches sold in interstate commerce daily, while FDA inspects closed-face sandwiches an average of once every five years," according to the General Accounting Office (GAO), which recently called for massive reform in Food Safety.
And what about overlap?

Both the USDA and FDA inspect shipments of imported food at 18 US ports-of-entry ... BUT ... the two agencies do not share inspection resources at the ports. According to the GAO, this means FDA-regulated products are occassionally sent to USDA-approved import inspection facilities and may remain in storage for some time awaiting FDA inspection.

Interestingly enough, in fiscal year 2003, USDA spent about $16 million on imported food inspections, while the FDA spent about $115 million. Could some of those millions$ have been saved using unified facilities and a single inspection agency responsible for all food imports?

Meanwhile, back to the egg. Who is working on eliminating the salmonella in eggs?
Federal and state governments, the egg industry, and the scientific community are working together to solve the problem. Involved government agencies include: USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and State departments of agriculture.
The conundrum, as I see it, is that without enough power over the entire "farm-to-fork" process, a new agency overseeing Food Safety in the USA might only result in crisis management instead of actual prevention and protection. And what about overlap? Most everyone will agree, we're paying a ton of taxes already and the last thing we need is yet another Govt. Agency that gives us a false sense of security.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in FAVOR of a new Food Safety Agency.

With the recent outbreaks due to lettuce, spinach, peanut butter ...and the Gold Star Sausage Co. recall of more than 15,500 pounds of hot dogs and sausages distributed in Idaho and other states last month because the meats might be contaminated with illness-causing bacteria... there's little doubt, in my mind at least, that our current system/agencies are dropping the ball on food safety.

I'm just saying a new Agency makes sense if/when the other agencies are streamlined and stripped of their powers (and downsized accordingly) in the areas of food safety, and this power and related resources are passed on to the new agency.

And with the long shadow of factory-style farming in the background, I have a feeling the food safety issue is only going to get worse if nothing is done soon.

Just my humble opinion.

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