Food Safety and (the lack of) Inspections

Nestled deep within the Washington Post was this article, about the current administrations perspective on the current problems surrounding food safety. Their response is rather stunning, but not all that surprising when you consider their track record on other issues.

A consensus is building among government and food industry officials that the fix for the country’s import safety system is likely to require better-targeted inspections, though not necessarily more of them.

Yesterday, Mike Leavitt, secretary of health and human services and chairman of a panel established by President Bush to study the safety of imported food, reflected that point of view when he said: “We simply cannot inspect our way to safety.” (emphasis mine)

The best interpretation for the above is that we’re not going to see any more funding for additional inspectors out in the field.

The article goes on to say the following:

Instead, the import safety panel is expected to push for expanded use of technology to more quickly identify risky imports. Leavitt has supported the use of technology at the border that could read the contents of a sports drink bottle, for example, looking for potentially toxic chemicals without opening it.

And the best interpretation for that is that some contractors are about to receive a large amount of money to develop products that…guess what…will have to be regulated. Hardware and software developed for the government does not occur in a vacuum.

The FDA is developing a food-safety strategy to be unveiled this fall that would rely on risk-based inspection but has not asked for more resources to pay for more inspections.

The only question here is why wasn’t the FDA already pursuing risk-based inspections?

I will concede the fact that throwing inspectors at the problem is only a drop in the bucket. But there’s more that can be done on this side of that fence. Companies who knowingly violate regulations, or repeatedly have the same issues should be penalized. Inspectors need to have accountability in their arsenal of tools. Currently there is precious little of that.

Also, adding more inspectors doesn’t mean that there will be a zero sum gain in findings. They will catch some issues that are not being caught now. Arguing that adding additional inspectors is a waste of time is absolutely false.

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