In the wake of this year’s tainted peanut butter scare, Congress is getting ready to approve changes to the Food and Drug Administration. Lawmakers want to give the American public more confidence in the safety of the food supply system. But some people doubt they will be able to
make real change. Julie Grant reports:
In the wake of this year’s tainted peanut butter scare,
Congress is getting ready to approve changes to the Food
and Drug Administration. Lawmakers want to give the
American public more confidence in the safety of the food
supply system. But some people doubt they will be able to
make real change. Julie Grant reports:
Gwen Rosenberg is a mom. She has four boys to feed. So
she’d like to be able to trust that the food supply is safe.
But when Rosenberg heard that 8 people died after eating
peanut products earlier this year, and hundreds more got
sick, it confirmed her beliefs: that the Food and Drug
Administration isn’t making sure food is safe.
“There shouldn’t be stories that come out that reveal that the
peanut plant hasn’t been inspected for years. Or when it
was inspected, there was rat feces. They’re not doing their
Rosenberg wants the FDA to crack down on food
manufacturers. She says they need inspect more – and shut
down facilities when they find dangerous conditions. She
was appalled when she realized the FDA has no authority to
recall tainted foods.
“The fact that they don’t have recall authority essentially
neuters the FDA. I mean, how are we supposed to take
anything they say or do seriously if they end result is, ‘well,
we can’t force you to do this?’ Well, thanks for the
community service message not to eat the tainted peanut
butter, but you’re not actually making me any safer.”
In the case of the Peanut Corporation of America, a test
found salmonella in its products. It retested. When the test
came out negative, it went ahead and shipped out the
And the FDA had no recall authority. Congressman Bart
Stupak says that’s just wrong. He’s co-sponsoring a food
safety bill that would give the FDA some authority in cases
“What the FDA can do, shut ‘er down. Prove to me that you
cleaned it up. Prove to me, where did you destroy this
product. Give me the facts. They can’t give you the facts,
shut ‘er down right now. Let’s not wait ten days.”
But leaders in the FDA don’t think recall authority would
have made much difference in the tainted peanut product
David Acheson is Associate Commissioner for foods at the
FDA. Once people started getting sick, he says most
companies using the Peanut Corporation of America’s
products voluntarily recalled their cookies and crackers.
“There’s no suggestion that having mandatory recall is a
panacea to solving food safety problems. It’s one more tool
that would be used from time to time when the situation
warrants it, but it’s not the answer to modernizing food
Acheson says the real problem is that the FDA is so busy
reacting to public health threats – to putting out fires – that it
can’t get ahead of the problems and fix the food safety
He says the food system needs preventive controls.
There are a lot of points in the food supply chain where
hazards can creep in: when the food is being grown,
processed, distributed, or sold in a store. Acheson says the
food industry needs to identify control points for each food –
where they are most at risk at becoming unsafe.
“Is it a wild animal in a field, is it the water supply for the
spinach, is it the temperature in my freezer in a retail store.
And all these things in between where things can go wrong
and food can either become contaminated or if there is a low
level of contamination then bacteria can grow.”
Once those control points are identified, Acheson says the
FDA needs to do more inspections – to make sure food is
being handlled safely from farms fields to grocery stores.
But that’s going to cost money.
So Congress is considering charging companies fees to pay
for those inspections.
Food manufacturers don’t like that idea. We contacted
several companies, but none of them, not even the Grocery
Manufacturers Association, would comment for this story.
For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.