Food Safety (2014)
Food safety is the responsibility of several overlapping agencies–EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDA (Federal Department of Agriculture), the CDC (Center for Disease Control), and others. Each of these agencies has a separate function and to date no coordinated plan has been developed: there is no comprehensive picture of the government’s performance on food safety. Each agency concentrates on its major interest–food content, food distribution, plant safety, animal protection, soil and water resources, etc.
The LWVUS Consensus Questions ask which of the following should government perform or fund:
a) Clarify and enforce pre-market testing requirements for new foods and food additives developed using any new technology. Research on these new products is performed by both public and private entities. Often a third-party is asked to review and determine the safety of the new product. Sometimes, however, the product’s manufacturer is asked to verify its safety and this is criticized by some as vulnerable to distortion due to self-interest. However, all new products must be approved by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) before release to the commercial market.
b) Require developers to monitor all food products developed using any new technology after releasing to the market. To date this has not been required of producers and has been left to the government to oversee marketplace results. To impose this task on developers would undoubtedly raise prices and could forestall product innovation. It would also inevitably result in higher prices for consumers.
In 2012 The Food Safety Modernization Act called for the FDA to prevent rather than just respond to food contamination. This Act has been hailed as “the most important change in food safety legislation in 70 years.” It focuses on salmonella and e-coli pathogens. It will cost $1.4 billion over the next few years, but Congress has so far only approved $50 million for the project.
c) Withdraw market approval if products are shown to be unsafe. The federal government’s food safety program remains on the General Accountability Office’s High Risk list because a governmentwide performance plan for food safety that includes results-oriented goals and performance measures and information about resources has not yet been developed. Without a government-wide plan, decision makers do not have a comprehensive picture of the government’s performance on food safety.
d) Require post-market monitoring of approved pharmaceutical applications in animal production for human health and environmental impacts. There are gaps in scientists` understanding of gene sequencing and interrelationships and their understanding of how genetic expression is turned on and off; this has led to research on methods for assessing the risk from complex exposures that might include GE foods, animal antibiotics and hormones, pesticide residues, nanomaterials, and novel food processing materials in addition to a myriad of other factors.
e) Require developer of new products to provide data and other materials to independent third parties (such as academic institutions) for pre- and post-market safety assessment as appropriate. Manufacturers naturally want to protect confidential business information from competitors, and the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) may not have the power to decrease the unwarranted use of confidential business information. In answering this question one must try to imagine how manufacturers might react.
f) Limit use of antibiotics in animal production to treat and control disease. Of concern is the administration of antimicrobials to conventionally raised livestock in non-therapeutic doses for disease prevention. Many of the antibiotics used in animals are the same as those administered in humans. Others, like ionophores, have been developed for exclusive use in animals. Widespread use of antimicrobials in animal feed is linked to antibiotic resistant bacteria.
According to the Animal Health Institute, which represents animal health drug sponsors, animal antibiotics make our food supply safer and people healthier. Antibiotics are a critical tool to prevent, control and treat disease in animals. In doing so, they also reduce the chance of bacterial transmission from animals to humans.
g) Fund independent third-party (such as academic institutions) risk assessment of long-term and multiple exposures from foods on human health and the environment. Some people think government should have laboratories to do such research; others think government should pay commercial or academic institutions to do the research. Cost, expertise, protection of confidential business information, and oversight are among the factors to be weighed.
h) Promote crop management practices that decrease dependency on added chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers.) Examples of agricultural practices that promote sustainable agriculture vary depending on regional soil conditions and weather conditions. In general they include crop rotation and tillage practices, use of cover crops, soil enrichment through plant and livestock inputs, use of natural pest predators, and bio-intensified integrated pest management as well as use of energy conservation technology and renewable energy sources.
i) Fund, train, and add personnel of assessment and compliance functions of regulatory agencies.Actual food safety budgets and personnel do not always appear to be well calibrated with responsibilities. USDA, for example, has 7800 inspectors for 6800 facilities while FDA has 2000 inspectors for more than 130,000 facilities. Part of the reason for this disparity is the USDA mandate to inspect virtually all meat products while FDA uses much smaller samples for products under its responsibility. In 1972 the FDA drug and food budgets were about equal, yet in 2011, the Drug Center staff was more than 3 times greater than that of the Food Center staff (3097 vs. 871 people). The latest challenge is the estimated cost for the Food Safety Modernization Act (2011 law) of $1.4 billion over 5 years, coupled with a Congressional authorization of only a $50 million boost in the 2012 FDA appropriation.