Deadline day around here and things are a bit busy, but I wanted to comment on an FDA appropriations hearing I covered this morning.
The agency is getting a huge boost in the president’s 2010 budget proposal â€” $511 million, or 19 percent. Much of that money will pay for more than 1,200 new hires. That means a 30 percent staffing boost over two years, when you include the 1,500 new employees hired this year.
The numbers prompted some back-and-forth with legislators, as you might expect. A few Republicans thought they were too large; Democrats hinted they might be too small.
But the Goldilocks-esque search for a middle ground can seem very arbitrary. The FDA says, for example, that it needs money to hire 220 new food safety investigators, which will allow it to conduct 4,000 additional inspections every year. But why is 4,000 the right number? Why not 3,000, or 5,000, or 10,000?
I’m a little surprised at the FDA’s quick reaction to the news of possible salmonella contamination in pistachios. The agency convinced Setton Pistachio, the nation’s second-largest pistachio producer, to recall its entire 2008 crop â€” even though nobody has reported a confirmed case of salmonella poisoning from those nuts.
Contrast that with the peanut recall earlier this year, where almost a month elapsed between the initial reports of contamination and a complete recall of the Peanut Corporation of America’s product line.
FDA officials say they’re taking a harder line with food producers, and that’s a positive development.
Still, the pistachio story highlights some of the ongoing gaps in our food safety system. The FDA learned about possible contamination from Kraft Foods, which found salmonella in trail mix made with Setton pistachios. It turns out, though, Kraft found salmonella in trail mix on four other occasions, dating back to December 2007.
But private labs don’t have to report their findings to the FDA â€” so the agency never learned about those tests.
Tags: food safety
The recent peanut butter recall â€” products from theÂ Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) wereÂ contaminated with salmonellaÂ â€” makes a strong case for completely overhauling our food safety system.
First, I think it underscores the need to merge FDA’s food safety functions with those of theÂ Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service â€” in other words, creating a single food regulator.Â
Why? We’ve learned that USDAÂ bought peanuts from PCAÂ and used them for school lunch programs. In fact, it was one of the company’s two biggest customers. And itÂ regularly sent inspectorsÂ to review records at PCA’s processing facility.Â But so did the FDA, the agency in charge of regulating peanut products.
So we had two federal agencies inspecting the same facility â€” aÂ consequence of our splintered regulatory system.
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