Congressional Investigation Finds FDA's Food Safety Capability a 'Mess'

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lacks the resources and authority to ensure food safety, Congressional investigators told the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. Meanwhile, the agency's recent decision to reorganize its food-safety division and to close and consolidate labs threatens to exacerbate the problems, the investigators said.

Following numerous reports of contaminated food not only from China but also from U.S. processors, the FDA's approach of relying on voluntary compliance "appears inadequate in responding to the changing food industry," said David Nelson, a senior investigator for the committee, according to press reports.

Criticism of the FDA came from Republicans and Democrats. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the full committee, said that the recent reports of unsafe food showed "the sorry state of federal oversight of the domestic food supply" and called the FDA "a sorry mess."

He said legislation to provide more funding to the FDA is on the way.

In defense of the FDA's record, commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach cited the agency's quick response to contamination of fresh spinach and peanut butter last year. "The American food supply continues to be among the safest in the world," he said in his testimony. "Although we have made progress, much remains to be done."

Von Eschenbach also said the reorganization and consolidation of FDA labs would save money and improve the testing of suspect foods.
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