As the Bush administration draws to a close, the old adage, “out with the old, in with the new” is one way to describe the flurry of activity that comes with a presidential transition. Food & Water Watch has been asking the incoming Obama administration to translate their campaign promises of change into action. One way to do that is for the new administration to bring a new determination for the food safety agencies that we look to for protection to actually do what is required of them.
One key change that we are encouraging the new administration to make is the creation of a separate food safety administration within the Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is both underfunded and understaffed–and the results have been glaringly evident, with their belated and inadequate import alert on Chinese dairy products being just one of many examples.
The FDA just does not have enough people to get the job done, and yet they have no problem giving themselves a pat on the back for what little they accomplish. What they should be focusing on, rather than writing self-congratulatory reports, is creating an inspection workforce that is appropriate, size-wise, with the range and quantity of products that they cover–another request that Food & Water Watch has made of the Obama administration. The fact that FDA is opening three inspection offices in China is a clear example of a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t actually fix the problem–considering how few inspectors they are sending relative to the billions of dollars of Chinese products that are imported into the United States.
That same inspector shortage problem has been plaguing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is responsible for inspecting meat and poultry, a system that is constantly under attack. To give you an example, a survey of USDA’s meat inspectors showed that a majority of inspectors stationed in slaughter plants recorded less than half of the regulatory violations they witnessed. Why? Because there are not enough of them to complete all their inspection tasks and necessary paperwork. Food & Water Watch has urged the new administration to adequately fund the meat and poultry inspection program and make sure that chronic inspector vacancies are finally filled.
Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. For more information, go to www.foodandwaterwatch.org.
By Sofia Balino, Food & Water Watch