A consumer group that supported the passage of FSMA is calling on the Obama Administration to more broadly implement the act after finding that food safety remains a problem in the nation. Each year, according to the U.S. PIRG—The Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups—48 million Americans are stricken by contaminated foods, at an aggregate annual cost of $77 billion. Moreover, the group reported that 1,753 consumers in the past 21 months were sickened by recalled foods, at a cost of more than $227 million.
Saying the Administration should not “waste time” in fully implementing FSMA, Nasima Hossain, public health advocate for U.S. PIRG, said that increasing numbers of U.S. consumers are getting sick from a growing number of recalled foods, and regulatory officials are addressing food safety issues reactively rather than in a preemptive way that would prevent recalls. Her comments reflect findings in a new report issued by U.S. PIRG. Entitled “Total Food Recall: Unsafe Foods Putting American Lives at Risk,” the study analyzed nationwide recall information issued by the FDA and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) from January 2011 to September 2012.
“We need a food safety system that is fully funded and fully staffed to stop the onslaught of unsafe foods from reaching our dinner tables. The Food Safety Modernization Act should be fully implemented,” Hossain told Food Quality. “The new Administration should not waste any more time in strengthening and funding our food safety systems, and the produce rules that are languishing in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which could prevent thousands of people becoming ill, must be released.”
U.S. PIRG was among the groups that strongly supported the passage of the act, but Hossain said her organization is disappointed that after two years the administration still has not fully implemented the act and that the number of consumers affected continues to rise. Specifically, the organization cited a number of foodborne illnesses that have resulted from contaminated food, including Salmonella outbreaks caused by a variety of foods such as turkey, cantaloupes, salmon, mangoes, peanut butter, and papaya.
The organization, which stressed the need to fund several important programs created under FSMA, noted that Congress stripped funding for the Transforming Food Safety Initiative, which would allow the FDA to establish a prevention-focused domestic and import food safety system. Its report also cited an “uncertain” future for the USDA’s Microbiological Data Program, which screens high-risk produce for bacterial contamination. U.S. PIRG noted that Congress has proposed budgets that are short of full funding by as much as $700 million.