The Institute of Medicine has released a report that says the Food and Drug Administration lacks a comprehensive vision for food safety and should take a risk-based approach in order to properly protect the nation's food. In addition, the report says, the FDA should provide standards for food inspection so that states and the federal government follow the same rigorous methods for inspections, surveillance, and outbreak investigations. Most notably, the IOM recommends that Congress take legislative action to provide the FDA with the authority it needs to fulfill its food safety mission.
As a result of this report, the IOM and the National Research Council are urging Congress to require food facilities to register with the FDA and to give the agency power to suspend those registrations for violations that threaten public health. The IOM report also recommends that FDA be authorized to issue mandatory food recalls, to identify countries with inadequate food safety systems and to ban food imports from those countries.
The report is the result of action taken by Congress in 2008 that directed FDA to contract with the National Academies for a study of the gaps in FDA's food safety system.
The bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passed out of the Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last year, builds on the central recommendation in IOM's report: that we must have a systematic, risk-based approach to food safety in the United States. According to Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate's HELP committee, the gaps in oversight that IOM has identified reinforce the need for the Senate to move on this legislation as soon as possible. Harkin hopes to get the bill to the Senate Floor this month.
For now the bill is waiting Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to take action. Reid is expected to bring the bill up for action in the Senate before the August recess. Meanwhile, advocacy groups remain concerned that the Senate will again run out of time before acting on the bill. The House passed its food safety measure in July 2009.
According to the report, the FDA is responsible for more than 150,000 food facilities, more than a million restaurants and other retail food establishments, and more than two million farms, as well as millions of tons of imports; thereby lacking the resources to sufficiently monitor the food supply.