T.F.A.H. report calls for major food safety reform

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Trust for America’s Health (T.F.A.H.), a group that receives funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on March 25 issued a report "Keeping America’s Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" that examines what it describes as "problems with the fragmented and antiquated current system."

"Our food safety system is plagued with problems, and it’s leading to millions of Americans becoming needlessly sick each year," said Dr. Jeff Levi, executive director of the T.F.A.H. "The system is outdated and unable to effectively deal with today’s threats. Its current structure actually prevents the kind of coordinated, focused effort that Americans need more than ever and have a right to expect."

Recommendations made by the group include the immediate consolidation of food safety leadership within the Food and Drug Administration as well as the creation of a separate Food Safety Administration within the H.H.S.

According to the T.F.A.H. report, no F.D.A. official whose full-time job is food safety has line authority over all food safety functions, a problem that may be rectified through efforts by the Obama administration to consolidate leadership within F.D.A. and creation of a separate Food Safety Administration. Other problems identified in the report were inadequate technologies and inspection practices, inadequate staffing and resources and inadequate inspection of imports.

Among its recommendations, the T.F.A.H. suggested increasing and aligning resources with the highest risk threats; immediately establishing a deputy commissioner at the F.D.A. with line authority over all food safety programs; and modernizing the mandate and legal authority of the H.H.S. Secretary to prevent illness, which would include enforcing the responsibility of food companies to implement modern preventive controls and meet government-established food safety performance standards.

"Food safety needs to be a priority on the prevention menu," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We shouldn’t have to worry about our children getting sick from their school lunch or from a family meal at a restaurant. And we shouldn’t have to wait until people become sick to learn about food safety problems. We need modern, comprehensive ways of preventing and detecting problems before food gets to the table."

The full report is available on the T.F.A.H.’s web site at www.healthyamericans.org.

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