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The Incompetence of the FDA and Food Safety

June 21, 2008

Food hysteria and anger is on the lips of the media and Americans alike. This country has had more than its share of food contamination issues lately. What is with the FDA and the plight of tomatoes in America? The Food and Drug Administration is claiming that the source of tainted tomatoes may never be uncovered. What kind of half-hearted admission is this, especially since contaminated tomatoes is simply a theory with little basis in known fact?

For three months, the Food and Drug Administration, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials, have been investigating a multi-state outbreak of salmonella infection. The FDA has been slow to react in dealing with the safety of the food supply. Even internal critics say that the FDA is in a state of crisis because of budget and staffing issues. The FDA budget has reportedly shrunk in the last 3 years by 14 percent. Meanwhile, hundreds of open jobs stay unfilled at the agency.

Meanwhile, salmonella continues as a cause for diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after eating any tainted food.

It has taken three long months for the FDA to decide to make a trip to Mexico to check out tomato growers there. Mexico has been a common source of contaminated food even though the FDA fears that it has been too hard on Mexico where food sourcing is concerned. Meanwhile, the CDC predicts more cases of salmonella.

The FDA ridiculously asserts that the source of tainted tomatoes may never be uncovered, yet maintains that their investigation has narrowed the problem to raw red plum, red Roma or red round tomatoes. That is a wide berth of tomatoes that Americans are expected to avoid based on little more than hysteria and apparent misinformation.

Reports of the number of Americans affected ranges from the hundreds to the thousands. General misinformation has been the mark of the day. The thought has occurred to at least a few media types including this writer that tomatoes are simply a convenient scapegoat for the problem to cover for a larger problem. Perhaps America has a food crisis due to terrorist or other covert activities that are unknown to the public-at-large.

Only recently in November of 2007 has the FDA developed a plan to mandate the recall of tainted food. Right now, any food recalls rely on the good will of the distribution system and retailers unless the agency can prove any foods in question has been dangerously adulterated. Any seizures that are implemented occur based on variable conditions depending on jurisdiction.

The excuses fly and finger pointing continues. The Department of Agriculture, which receives 76% of food safety dollars, regulates only about 20 percent of the food supply, such as meat, poultry and eggs. The other 24% of funding goes to the Food and Drug Administration, a situation that reeks of government mismanagement and neglect.

Even the government itself is skeptical of the FDA, yet fails to address the problems in any way. Meanwhile, the people of America remain at high risk to contamination, both within and from outside of the country. In the meantime, Mexican sources of tomatoes are angry enough to throw tomatoes at the FDA since there is not a shred of proof that any tomato contamination exists. Nobody wants to buy Mexican tomatoes and perhaps for good reason. Mexico does supply large quantities of food to the states as well as having a significant contribution to the contamination of fresh food bound for the U.S.

Perhaps the United States needs to fully depend on itself, while growing more of its own food as well as policing its own safety. The current government infrastructure was never designed to insure the safety of food from around the world.

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