Food Safety Programs Suffer in Budget Battles

Publication: Reuters

Author: Emily Stephenson and Anna Yukhananov


06/17/2011 - When a salmonella outbreak sickened at least 79 people and killed two this past spring in Rhode Island, the state had only seven food safety inspectors.

During the month it took health officials to track the outbreak to a small bakery in Johnston, Rhode Island, the state's other 8,000 licensed food establishments remained virtually uninspected.

Though Rhode Island plans to hire one additional inspector soon, Health Department spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth said it won't be enough to fully protect the state's food supply.

"On a daily basis, we're prioritizing based on risk," she said. "So if there's a recall or if we're getting reports of illness, that will at times trump a routine, unscheduled inspection."

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Obama in January signed the Food Safety Modernization Act, the first major overhaul of U.S. food safety laws since the 1930s, aimed at preventing foodborne illness.

The law allows the FDA to conduct more inspections of domestic and foreign food producers, increase collaboration with the U.S. Agriculture Department and state inspection agencies, and enforce mandatory recalls of contaminated products.

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In an internal FDA document produced in May, the agency warned that budget cuts would severely hinder its ability to implement food safety reforms. With its drug and medical device departments largely funded by user fees, FDA budget cuts disproportionately hit food safety programs.

"You can change the words on paper, but if you don't have the staff, and you don't have the scientific backup to carry out the law, you haven't fully changed the system," said Erik Olson, deputy director of the Pew Health Group, a consumer advocacy group that was involved in getting the law passed.

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Read the full article Food Safety Programs Suffer in Budget Battles on the Reuters Web site.

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