According to rumors, the FDA is about to approve the use of cloned animals for food. The rumors originate from the Wall Street Journal, which warns everyone to “get ready for a food fight over milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.” When it first approved cloned animals, the FDA asked producers of the cloned animals not to do this until consumers got used to the idea: “we are continuing to ask producers of clones and livestock breeders to voluntarily refrain from introducing food products from these animals into commerce so that we will have the opportunity to consider the public’s comments and to issue any final documents as warranted.” I guess they’ve done that and the time has come?
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Today’s “Ask Marion” on Eating Liberally follows up on my previous post about the FDA Science Board’s tough review of agency resources and competence. Enjoy!
Here’s what the New York Times has to say about the new report from the FDA’s Science Board. The Science Board is a high-level committee that directly advises the FDA Commissioner (full disclosure: I used to be a consumer representative on that Board). At the Commissioner’s request, it has just issued a no-holds-barred report on the current state of the FDA. Congress, it says, has deliberately taken resources away from the FDA to the point where it cannot possibly do what it is supposed to. The report singles out the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition–the part that deals with food regulation and safety–as a particular target for budget cuts. Since 1992, for example, CFSAN has lost 15% of its workforce, but has far more to do. You think a weak food regulatory agency is maybe not such a good idea? Let your congressional representatives know what you think about this issue. You don’t know who they are? Just go to this site, type in your zip code, and take it from there.
The FDA has released its version of the new food safety plans for imported foods. It has established a Food Protection Plan web site, an Import Safety site, and a new plan for food protection. These are linked to the import safety plan mentioned in yesterday’s posting. It’s still difficult to figure out how all this will work in practice but the idea seems to be to require countries that export foods to us to certify their exporters and allow U.S. inspectors on site. And the FDA will be allowed to order recalls. What a concept! Some progress, but will it do the trick?
I hear rumors from reporters that President Bush’s Food Safety Panel is to announce its recommendations tomorrow. Rumors are that there are four:
1. Give the FDA the authority to recall safe products (recalls now are voluntary).
2. Increase the number of inspectors in countries that export to the U.S.
3. Certify firms with proven records of food safety.
4. Focus resources on riskier products.
Without having seen the Panel’s report, it’s hard to comment but if this is really all there is, it isn’t much. Recall authority and more inspectors are obvious needs. But what about farm-to-table food safety standards, with testing and enforcement? What about a single food safety agency? What about more inspectors at our borders? And why do we need a certification program. Every company involved in food production should be thoroughly engaged in safety procedures. If they don’t produce safe food, they should not be allowed to remain in business. Let’s see what the report really says. Stay tuned.
The FDA has just announced that it will be revisiting the Daily Values on food labels so here’s your chance to weigh in on whether you think they are good, bad, or indifferent in helping people decide whether a food product is worth eating. These, of course, are complicated. Lower is better for saturated fat and sodium, but higher is better for fiber and vitamins. Is there a better way to do this? Now is the time to state your opinion to the FDA. How? Submit comments according to these instructions.
Such things never cease to amaze. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, a lobbying and trade organization for the retail food industry, has just recruited Robert Brackett as its new senior vice president in charge of regulatory affairs. And who could possibly be better qualified. To take this job, Mr. Brackett will be leaving his position as director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the part of FDA that deals with food issues. I hope they are paying him tons of money.
The FDA has just announced that it will be holding public hearings on November 29 to discuss issues related to salt labeling. Right now, the FDA considers salt Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human consumption but petitions from Center for Science in the Public Interest and other groups are challenging that designation. Should the FDA instead regulate salt as a food additive? How could the FDA best use its regulatory authority to help Americans reduce their salt intake? Expect fireworks at this hearing as the various stakeholders–health advocates vs. industry–weigh in.