Report: FDA needs more proactive food safety approach

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A new report released today by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council suggests that lack of resources, less than optimal organization and a reactive instead of preventive approach are undermining the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to effectively regulate food safety.

The nearly 500-page report, which was requested by Congress in 2008, concludes that the FDA needs more efficient organization to maximize its reach on a limited budget, and points to the need for a paradigm shift to risk-based food safety oversight — a policy change that necessitates both improved data analysis and better communication between different government agencies. To that end, the report points out that, while much food industry oversight falls to individual states, inefficient coordination between state agencies and the federal government contributes to redundancies and other problems. Establishing clearer protocols, firm standards for frequency of inspections and more effective distribution of responsibility are essential steps toward minimizing such waste, the report concludes.

There is some reason to hope that these proposed changes could become realities in the near future. As the Associated Press points out, many of the recommendations — such as expanding the agency’s authority to enforce certain policies or mandate food recalls — are in keeping with those included in a bill passed by the House last year. The Senate is expected to consider a similar bill in the coming months.

Each year there are an estimated 76 million outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S., contributing to an annual 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, report authors point out. While a network of state and federal agencies are responsible for regulating the food supply, roughly 80% of all U.S. foods ultimately fall under FDA oversight.

Read the full IOM/National Research Council report here.

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