Outside editorial: FDA needs more inspectors

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star:

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The recent pet food recalls have put the Food and Drug Administration squarely in the spotlight. Oversight covers products not just consumed by pets, but which end up on our dinner tables.

The demands of such a job are high; those charged with public responsibilities must live up to the safety expectations that go with their jobs.

Investigations into how poisonous ingredients entered the pet-food product chain have extended all the way to China. The question is how the tainted ingredients went undetected.

The FDA's food safety arm is responsible for safeguarding 80 per cent of the nation's food supply. Yet its director, Robert Brackett, appeared to opt for a course other than stringent inspections.

Brackett is correct that the food manufacturers must build safety standards into their systems, but the FDA must engage in tough enforcement at the same time. By their own count, the FDA had enough inspectors to check only about 1 percent of the 8.9 million imported food shipments in fiscal year 2006. That's obviously insufficient.

It is heartening, however, to note that Congress, through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is conducting hearings. Chinese authorities now acknowledge that ingredients exported to make pet food contained a prohibited chemical. And they are promising to expand their investigation and cooperate with U.S. inspectors.

Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is the panel's chairman, is considering introducing legislation that would boost FDA's much-needed accountability, regulatory authority and budget. That's how to check a future food fiasco.

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