Saturday, September 17, 2011

FDA: crucial or redundant?

One of our biggest natural resources is agriculture: our capacity to produce food. In today's world, in which we combine "hundreds of thousands of ingredients from over 200 countries," food safety has increasingly become a concern. However, even as the complexity of the food industry has sharply increased, the government's response to it (on the food safety front) has not kept pace. Laws enacted to improve the FDA have been rendered moot by Congress's lack of interest in adequately funding the organization.

Here's a look at one recent failure: the Peanut Corporation of America's production of contaminated peanut butter. That led to 714 illnesses, 166 hospitalizations, and 9 deaths. How much would it have cost to prevent that? The charge Nocera cites as having been approved by Congress in 2009, right after the incident, was $500 per food facility, totaling $300 million nationwide. Fortunately we haven't had any incidents that major since then (that I'm aware of, anyway) so maybe now's not a bad time to be underfunding those agencies. Still, my personal preference would be for adequate monitoring....

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