WASHINGTON, DC - A new Institute of Medicine report was sharply critical of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), maintaining that the agency needs more clout, money and staff to help protect the U.S. food supply as well as a coherent vision, Reuters reports.
According to the report, the FDA, which oversees drugs and 80 percent of the food supply, lacks sufficient power to protect the nation's food. It said the agency should be allowed to suspend food company registrations for violations that threaten the public health and have the authority to mandate recalls. The FDA typically must persuade companies to voluntarily recall dangerous foods.
Congress has been working to overhaul the food safety system but health-care and regulatory reform have slowed the process. The House passed reform legislation in July, and the Senate is expected to act this month.
The report concluded that legislation needs to help strengthen the FDA and that the agency must develop a better overall system for overseeing food safety.
"Congress should consider amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to provide explicitly and in detail the authorities the FDA needs to fulfill its food safety mission," the report reads, adding that while it favors boosting funding for the FDA, "simply putting more money into the food safety system as it is currently constituted, without essential reforms, would be insufficient from a public health perspective and an inefficient expenditure of resources."
Because Americans are sampling a wider variety of food, with more foods being imported, the report recommended that the FDA explore alternative approaches for regulating food safety, such as delegating the task to individual states.
"The FDA should develop a comprehensive strategic plan for development and implementation of a risk-based food safety management system.
The FDA oversees a $450 billion food system involving more than 156,000 FDA-regulated firms including suppliers, farmers, food handlers, processors, wholesalers and retailers, and foodservice companies. The report noted that the agency barely sees a fraction of the nation's food, noting, "Seventy-five percent of (U.S.) seafood comes from abroad; however, the FDA inspects less than 2 percent of imported foods."