Technology Seen as Key To Upgrading Food Safety

A consensus is building among government and food industry officials that the fix for the country’s import safety system is likely to require better-targeted inspections, though not necessarily more of them.

Recently, Mike Leavitt, secretary of health and human services and chairman of a panel established by President Bush to study the safety of imported food, reflected that point of view when he said: “We simply cannot inspect our way to safety.”

Leavitt was speaking in a packed auditorium at the Department of Agriculture, where the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety heard from more than 40 speakers. The panel is compiling a list of recommendations that is expected to be issued by next month and is likely to include an emphasis on using technology to target risky importers and coordinating oversight among agencies.

The idea that inspections need not be increased has been challenged by consumer advocates and those in Congress who have proposed a series of reforms to the food safety system, including importer fees and consolidated oversight under a single agency. They consider increased inspection necessary but acknowledge that the Food and Drug Administration’s budget makes that difficult under current circumstances.

Instead, the import safety panel is expected to push for expanded use of technology to more quickly identify risky imports. Leavitt has supported the use of technology at the border that could read the contents of a sports drink bottle, for example, looking for potentially toxic chemicals without opening it. The FDA is developing a food-safety strategy to be unveiled this fall that would rely on risk-based inspection but has not asked for more resources to pay for more inspections.

But increasing inspections remains the cornerstone of many of the congressional proposals under consideration, along with empowering the FDA to mandate recalls. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, have both proposed charging importers a fee that would raise hundreds of millions of dollars and help fund more inspections. Supporters of the legislation say that although increasing inspections may not be enough to tackle the entire food safety problem, it is critical to the process.

“We need more inspections at foreign factories or processing plants as well as inspections at our ports of entry,” Donald L. Mays, senior director of product safety at Consumers Union, told the panel.

Which viewpoints prevail may depend on how much lawmakers are able to accomplish before the end of the year. In the short term, consumers may see more resources for the FDA and other regulatory agencies, said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. More systematic restructuring of the food safety system, including consolidating oversight under a single agency, will take time, she said. “We need to beef up every area of food safety,” she said.

Source: The Washington Post

11 Responses to “Technology Seen as Key To Upgrading Food Safety”

  1. 5CatMom says:

    “We simply cannot inspect our way to safety.” Very true, Mr. Leavitt.

    Inspecting, coordinating, meeting, reviewing, compiling, reconciling, investigating . . . these things just don’t seem to be working very well.

    That’s because they’re all STALL TACTICS while behind the scenes, it business as usual.

    How about a little JAIL TIME for Steve Miller (Chem-Nutra) and Paul Henderson (Menu Foods)? How about some hefty FINES for dealing in adulterated products? How about a few locks on the doors of these companies?

    Have ANY penalties been imposed on the companies responsible for the PET FOOD RECALL of 2007?

    How about the FDA/USDA getting serious for a change?

  2. Anonymous says:

    How about No food trade from China, let us empower the U.S farmers again and RETAIN and MAINTAIN our own food sources as it should be. Stop the stupidity and the hiding of real issues and bring the MONEY and PROFIT HOME! And lastly but not least, Stop supplementing animal feed and human food with poisons of unknown origin from our own and other countries. Why can’t we get this staight as one of the most powerful countries in the world? GREED and no conscience for the American people and their loved ones (pets).

  3. Don Earl says:

    If one inspector checked one shipment about every 2 hours, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks per year, he could check approximately 9,000 shipments per year.

    With 9,000,000 shipments per year, it would take about 1,000 inspectors to check each and every one.

    At $50K per year, per inspector, it would cost $50 million per year to hire enough inspectors to check every shipment that comes into the US.

    The FDA’s budget is $2 billion per year. Hiring enough inspectors to do the job right would come to 2.5% of the FDA’s budget.

    Here’s a simple solution:

    Fire the top highest paid personnel at the FDA, you know, the managers who aren’t getting the job done. Then put the next 5% in charge at their current salaries and hire enough people to do the job right. Do this every 6 months until those feeding at the public trough are motivated enough to give us what we’re paying for.

  4. Don Earl says:

    PS.

    There’s nothing in the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act which prevents the FDA from ordering recalls. They have broad police powers to enforce the Act, make arrests, condemn adulterated products, etc.. Anything the FDA isn’t doing is because it doesn’t want to do it, not because it can’t.

    Forget these silly hot air conventions and order a grand jury investigation that will turn the FDA inside out.

  5. Trudy Jackson says:

    If We stop the war, We should have plenty of money for everything we need to get Done. And stop all conventions.
    And make the people accountable for what’s not getting done. We need COOL, no more from china, Etc.
    PS- Another recall , of white chocolete squares just came out.
    Also Do these people know they are working for US?

  6. Anonymous says:

    DITTO 5cat: How about a little JAIL TIME for Steve Miller (Chem-Nutra) and Paul Henderson (Menu Foods)? How about some hefty FINES for dealing in adulterated products? How about a few locks on the doors of these companies?

    Have ANY penalties been imposed on the companies responsible for the PET FOOD RECALL of 2007?

  7. Anonymous says:

    DITTO Don: Anything the FDA isn’t doing is because it doesn’t want to do it, not because it can’t.

    DITTO ANON: How about NO FOOD TRADE FROM CHINA, let us empower the U.S farmers again and RETAIN and MAINTAIN our own food sources as it should be. Stop the stupidity and the hiding of real issues and bring the MONEY and PROFIT HOME! And lastly but not least, Stop supplementing animal feed and human food with poisons of unknown origin from our own and other countries.

    BOYCOTT. THIS IS ALL ABOUT MONEY.

  8. Elaine says:

    Don Earl always cuts to the chase! Thanks, Don.

    At the hearing in June, FDA admitted that 7 million of the 10 million increase in their budgets went to BONUSES for employees!

    One of our founding fathers said that our Constitutional Republic will last only until those in power realize they can vote themselves a bonus (or something like that)

    vote Ron Paul 2008 and we can begin to heal our country–it is our only hope!

  9. Trudy Jackson says:

    OT-Another Recall- Aluminum water bottles [the nice painted ones] have lead paint on them. I wonder how long they’ve been out there?

  10. 5CatMom says:

    Trudy,

    Did you see the folks from the Consumer Product Safety Commission testify in front of the Senate oversight committee on Thursday?

    The problem is obvious - NO LEADERSHIP!!!!!

  11. Momofthe36KCat says:

    I am a rescuer by night, but an IT Project Manager by day. I manage multi-million dollar database and web projects. I can tell you, if there is not a well-defined real life process, no amount of technology will fix it.


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