US’s FDA in poor shape

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 11th June 2010

Food Safety - Ian Kahn

A report by independent research body the Institute of Medicine and the National Research council has slammed the US Food and Drug Administration’s current operational state, and called on the government to increase funding for a revamp.

According to the report, which was requested by Congress, the FDA should be working to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illness, instead of addressing them after they have begun, and should be making better use of data – both collection and sharing.

“The IOM determined that the FDA lacks a comprehensive vision for food safety and should take a risk-based approach in order to properly protect the nation’s food,” states the report summary.

“In addition, the FDA should provide standards for food inspection so that states and the federal government follow the same rigorous methods for inspections, surveillance, and outbreak investigations.”

“Most notably, the IOM recommends that Congress take legislative action to provide the FDA with the authority it needs to fulfill its food safety mission. Americans will continue to suffer from foodborne illnesses unless the FDA reevaluates and reworks its approach to food safety management.

Recent outbreaks of foodborne illness led to a congressional request for a review of gaps in FDA’s food safety system.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of around 80 percent of the US food supply, including seafood, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables.  (The U.S. Department of Agriculture handles meat, poultry, and egg products, and state and local agencies share in conducting food production facility inspections, surveillance, and investigations of outbreaks.)

“As recent illnesses traced to produce underscore, foodborne diseases cause significant suffering, so it’s imperative that our food safety system functions effectively at all levels,” said committee chair Robert Wallace, professor, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, Iowa  City.  “FDA uses some risk assessment and management tactics, but the agency’s approach is too often reactive and lacks a systematic focus on prevention.  Our report’s recommendations aim to help FDA achieve a comprehensive vision for proactively protecting against threats to the nation’s food supply.”

FDA-developed national standards for inspections, a national food safety data centre, outsourcing to state inspectors and streamlined legislation were all identified by the IOM as ways the FDA can lift its effectiveness.

The committee noted that while the agency has been criticized inadequate and after-the-fact monitoring and inspection, the agency would need significantly more resources to thoroughly monitor the more than 150,000 food facilities, 1 million restaurants and food outlets, 2 million farms and millions of tons of imports that it is responsible for.

Image: Ian Kahn /