FDA lacks resources for adequate food regulation

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fda, Food, Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Food and drug administration

Under-funding at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jeopardizes
food safety and innovation, according to a report presented today,
which suggests the formation of a new science body.

The Report of the Subcommittee on Science and Technology is a year-long review that attributed the regulatory board's shortfalls in supporting new technologies and ensuring food safety to a failure to increase resources to meet soaring demands. The report states: "Crisis management in FDA's two food safety centers… has drawn attention and resources away from FDA's ability to develop the science base and infrastructure needed to efficiently support innovation in the food industry, provide effective routine surveillance, and conduct emergency outbreak investigation activities to protect food." ​According to the report, the FDA cannot adequately monitor development of food and medical products because it is unable to keep up with scientific and technological advances. Rapid developments in areas such as nanotechnology are exceeding the capacity of current FDA science capabilities to provide sufficient safety supervision. This compromises public health, as the agency cannot effectively regulate products built on emerging science, and also restricts the Agency's ability to support innovation in the industries and markets that it regulates, including new food ingredients. The report suggests the formation of a new department, possibly called the Incubator for Innovation in Regulatory and Information Science (IIRIS), to liaise with groups involved in the new science programs. Despite crisis management diverting attention from advances in the food sector, safety procedures are also vulnerable due to lack of resources, says the report. During the past 35 years, FDA funding for the inspection of the American food supply has decreased, forcing the FDA to impose a 78 per cent reduction in food inspections. This comes at a time when the food industry has been rapidly expanding and importation has increased. With more food products and ingredients arriving from China, concerns have arisen over their lack of traceability. This is ever more worrying if the FDA lacks the resources to complete its own checks on the imports. The FDA estimates it inspects food manufacturers only once every 10 years. The agency conducts no inspections on retail food establishments or on food-producing farms. Previous reports by FDA advisory boards have voiced similar concerns, according to the report. Food regulations and inspections are vital throughout the industry, from the field to the shelves. Failures can affect the entire food supply chain. As well as insufficient inspections, the report says the FDA has been slow to respond to outbreaks and needs to develop and keep pace with the new regulatory science needed to prevent future problems arising. When Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) appeared in Europe, the FDA was denied the funds to bring the feed industry into rapid compliance with the new feed regulations, and so the disease spread to the US. This meant beef exports were cut off and American producers suffered multibillion dollar losses. The report considers the FDA is failing in its safety mission because of an insufficient scientific workforce, infrastructure and computer system as well as increases in FDA mandates, the challenges of globalization, and an increase in scientific demands. The FDA is an agency if the US Department of Health and Human Services and is responsible for the safety regulation of most types of foods and dietary supplements. Its federal budget request for 2008 totaled $2.1bn, a $105.8m increase from 2007.

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