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USA Today offers an anecdote this morning that will make your blood run cold:

“Late in October, a truckload of cantaloupes was stopped as it crossed the Mexican border near here (Nogales, Mexico). Food and Drug Administration inspectors took samples from some melons for routine food-safety tests, and importer Timco Worldwide distributed about 5,000 others to four states…Two weeks later, the FDA told Timco that its tests detected salmonella, a bacteria that can cause serious infections in young, frail and elderly people. Timco recalled the other melons within 24 hours in case they were contaminated, too. But it was too late, company officials say. All had been sold and presumably were consumed.

“Since then, five other U.S. companies have recalled more than 700,000 cantaloupes grown in Mexico and Costa Rica because FDA or company tests found salmonella. Fewer than half were recovered before being sold, the companies say.

“The recalls got little media attention because no illnesses were linked to them, unlike the peanut butter, lettuce and fresh spinach recalls since last fall, which set off alarms about the safety of U.S.-produced food.”

The big point is that the FDA, which already has cut back on the imported food that it inspects, from eight percent in 1992 to one percent today, isn’t able to keep up with the challenges of ever-greater amounts of food being imported into the US, which puts both consumers and retailers at risk.

Part of the problem seems to be a lack of funding and resources, while there also seems to be a lack of infrastructure. In addition, FDA appears to be in denial about its ability to force foreign countries to adopt safety standards commensurate with those in the US, despite the fact that the General Accounting Office (GAO) made the point three years ago that FDA’s actions were insufficient to truly protect the US consumer public, amid suggestions that FDA doesn’t live up to the standards of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
KC's View:
All of which seems to increase the urgency for the creation of a single food safety agency.

We’re going to start seeing more and more political calls from Congress for such an agency, and criticisms of President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget, which calls for an increase of $10.6 million for FDA food safety funding.