David Acheson, who was recently appointed the FDA’s assistant commissioner for food protection, discussed the future of food safety.
He states that increasing the number of inspections will not be a priority, but instead the FDA will focus on prevention of contamination. Acheson also called the FDA a “reactive agency” and says that’s a job the FDA must continue to do. But he also agrees that approach needs change. Prevention needs to be a focus and that’s where he’s like to take the agency.
Acheson seemed lukewarm on wanting the mandatory recall ability. His take on the formation of a single federal food safety agency was that it would be “more likely to create a bigger hole in food safety” in the short term.
Acheson defended the dedication of the FDA staff, and did not comment on the criticisms of the agency.
Excerpt from the Boston Globe article:
Q Critics are tough. One editorial calls food safety laws toothless, FDA staff overworked, and inspection regimens dominated by industry. True?
A I can’t specifically say whether that’s true or not true. There is recognition that there is a need for some change. There are a lot of very dedicated people in the FDA who are doing the best with the resources that they have, and the authorities that they have, to maximally protect public health.
Q Critics make the case for a single food safety agency with recall authority and a mandate to standardize inspections.
A Simply creating a single food safety agency, moving groups of federal employees around under a different organizational structure, frankly, I think is more likely to create a bigger hole in food safety, certainly for sure in the short term. I worry about that.
Q The agency inspects roughly 1 percent of the $60 billion in imported food. How much more does the FDA need for inspectors?
A I do not believe that simply doubling, tripling, increasing by a factor of 10 the number of inspectors is going to solve the problem. One has to build this into a comprehensive preventative strategy, working with industry to help them understand what preventative controls work the best. You then need to potentially verify that they’re doing that. You then need inspectors in the system for the intervention part: to inspect foods, maybe after they’ve been produced, somewhere during their life before they reach retail . . . Looking to prevent the problem from ever arriving on somebody’s dinner plate.
If we are going to move the food safety and security system forward, we are going to need to address this with new resources and, potentially, new authorities. The changes are real. There is a limit to what you can accomplish with the resources that we currently have.
Q Is mandatory recall authority among new powers the FDA seeks?
A It’s on the table as an authority that could be looked at.