Thursday, October 25, 2012

As Foodborne Illnesses Skyrocket, GOP Slashes Funds For Food Safety

Even though President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act — giving the Food and Drug Administration wider power to stop foodborne illness outbreaks before they start — the number of Americans who become sick or die because of contaminated food has increased 44 percent over the last two years, according to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

This adds up to about 48 million people getting sick. But Republicans have threatened to defund the law that helps curb salmonella outbreaks. Meanwhile, the FDA remains unable to implement the reforms because of underfunding:

But while some parts of the law have been enacted, the vast majority of the law’s regulatory framework remains in limbo, sitting in the White House Office of Management and Budget, with no clear timetable for implementation.

“In February, the president’s budget requested $4.5 billion for the Food and Drug Administration. But budget proposals in both the Senate and the House fall below this target, coming in $600 (million)-$700 million below full funding, which the Office of Management and Budget has called ‘harmful’ to food safety regulations,” the Public Interest Research Group says. [...]

Instead of improving, the problem of foodborne outbreaks is getting worse, the report says.

“When comparing 2010 infection incidences with national health objective targets … the only incidence rate that meets the target goal was the incidence of infection with E. coli O157,” the report says. “The incidence of salmonella was three times the 2010 national health objective target, which is especially alarming, as salmonella causes the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from foodborne disease.”

The problem is not limited to U.S. food suppliers, and in its report, the Public Interest Research Group adds that the FDA can’t keep up with demand. About two-thirds of the fruits and vegetables that Americans eat come from foreign food suppliers, but the FDA only inspected 153 of the 189,000 registered foreign food facilities.

As the regulations to inspect food suppliers remain underfunded, the federal government has outsourced much of its food inspection to responsibilities to third-party companies that aren’t transparent, have no oversight, and have approved food that sickened thousands of people. Consequently, more Americans will continue to get sick from tainted foods like peanut butter, meat, and cantaloupe.

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