The recent outbreak of e coli, being attributed to spinach, raises a number of questions, some of which are disturbing. (By the way, there have been updates on the spinach situation from the FDA.) What about microbes in our food?
The well-being of the food we eat is regulated by different agencies. If it is meat, generally the U.S.D.A is overseeing the production of beef and chicken, though you might be surprised to know, they don’t oversee all meat. Suffice it to say, however, that the policies that are supposed to be protecting us from exposure to harmful agents in meat is generally not the FDA’s purview. There are exceptions, such as ostrich and game meats, such as venison and snake.
The FDA does oversee our protection on the production of vegetables (such as spinach), but that oversight is not nearly as rigorous nor is there a mandate of authority nearly the size and scope of the USDA over beef and chicken. The agency does not have the same powers to regulate vegetables as the USDA does meat. Yet, as the last week attests, is the food supply not vulnerable from leafy vegetables as from meat?
That raises the questions:
- Since the FDA does not have such rigorous standards over our vegetables as the USDA has over our beef and chicken, should they?
- How can we shorten the time between an alarm, and a pull from the shelves. The spinach thing actually happened in late August, but the FDA was only able to detect it the second week in September. Do we need an earlier warning system?
- Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford spoke frequently and vigorously about the need to protect the safety of the food supply. Where’s the money on that?
- If the FDA is going to be the agency to oversee the safety of our vegetables, where is that money going to come from? Are there PDUFA fees in the future for our food?
- Does there need to be a separate agency for food security?
- What is our track record on this vis a vis other countries – do they have more or less contamination by microbes and what is the reason for either answer?
- Why has Congress not acted?
I’m sure there are more questions than I am able to come up with, but are there answers, or do these 100 + people who are sick, and 1 dead just get chalked up to experience? It seems to me, in this time of heightened security, the answer has a lot more gravity than it did 5 years ago.
And this speaks to the need for leadership at the FDA, and for Senators like DeMint and Vitter, to release the hold they have on the FDA Commissioner so that we can deal with real issues that the agency has before it.