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The steady drumbeat of stories about the food safety crisis in America continues…

USA TODAY reports this morning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “is enforcing a new import alert that greatly expands its curtailment of some food ingredients imported from China, authorizing border inspectors to detain ingredients used in everything from noodles to breakfast bars. The new restriction is likely to cause delays in the delivery of raw ingredients for the production of many commonly used products.

“The move reflects the FDA's growing unease with what the alert announcement called China's ‘manufacturing control issues’ issues and that country's inability to ascertain what controls are in place to prevent food contamination.”

• The Oregonian reports that current concerns about pet food contamination and the implications for the human food supply may result in greater interest in the creation of a single food safety agency to replace the current maze of agencies, or at least reform “the federal government's patchwork system of inspecting imported foods.”

Once again, the statistic is a stark one: “In 1992, the FDA physically inspected about 8 percent of imported foods items,” the Oregonian reports. “Since then, the figure has fallen to about 1 percent.”

According to the Oregonian, “The federal government's fragmented food-safety system -- 15 agencies hold jurisdiction for enforcing more than 30 primary laws – has caused the GAO and others to call for unification under one agency.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) has co-sponsored a bill that would create a Food Safety Administration; this is at least his second attempt, having failed in 2005 in his attempt to do much the same thing. However, power in Congress has shifted from the GOP to the Democratic Party, and there is at least the implication that this could mean shifting priorities in the food safety arena.

• The story is much the same, but the lead is far more dramatic in the New York Times this morning:

“Early in the 20th century, the safeguarding of food at American ports often amounted to inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration prying open containers of molasses or sugar and examining them for mold or insect parts.

“The FDA has come a way since then. But not much more.”
KC's View:

This unrelenting series of stories is going to continue to appear in the nation’s newspapers and magazines, and on television screens, at least until another starlet commits suicide or a shock jock immolates his career in public. And even then, we’re not sure that the public and media concerns about food safety will be alleviated.

Clearly, something has to change. It has been years – perhaps as long as a decade – since FMI CEO Tim Hammonds called for a single food safety agency. (Other than Hammonds, we may be the only folks who remember that.) We endorsed the idea as sensible then, and we believe in it now.

The current system is broken, and there seems to be little likelihood that it can be fixed to the point that public confidence can be legitimately restored.

More than a band-aid is needed. We’re thinking major surgery.