The re­cent food scares

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Watch­ing the never-end­ing hear­ings Democrats are now hold­ing on the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion re­minds us of Al Capone’s as­ser­tion that “I have built my or­ga­ni­za­tion on fear.” In­deed, a day has not gone by that a show trial has not been held claim­ing that our drugs are un­safe, and, now that our food is poi­soned be­cause the agency is com­pro­mised by a cozy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the in­dus­tries, it is sup­posed to po­lice and the reg­u­la­tors them­selves. The four most com­mon bac­te­ria, in­clud­ing sal­mo­nella and e-coli, con­trib­ute to about 5,000 deaths each year and cost our econ- omy nearly $7 bil­lion an­nu­ally. The re­cent spate of food-re­lated prob­lems — rang­ing from spinach con­tam­i­na­tion to a peanut but­ter re­call and now to the dis­cov­ery that a poi­sonous ad­di­tive may be in an­i­mal food im­ported from China — un­der­scores the im­por­tance of en­sur­ing the safety of the na­tion’s food sup­ply.

But adding more bu­reau­crats, or, al­ter­na­tively, threat­en­ing FDA of­fi­cials with salary cuts, are not the re­sponses our na­tion needs. The re­cent prob­lems have a com­mon theme: They are the prod­uct of a more global and in­dus­tri­al­ized process of food pro­duc­tion that al­lows pathogens to spread and emerge more rapidly than was the case 20 years ago. Bet­ter tools for iden­ti­fy­ing and de­tect­ing out­breaks and con­tam­i­nants in the food sup­ply in real­time fash­ion are avail­able but not in wide­spread use at this time.

The United States has a sur­veil­lance sys­tem in place for de­tect­ing emerg­ing pathogens called Foodnet. In turn, it is sup­ported by a se­ries of labs called PulseNet that sub­types and elec­tron­i­cally com­pares pathogens as they are dis­cov­ered and de­tected. This net­work needs to be up­graded and en­hanced.

More­over, both the FDA and the De- part­ment of Agri­cul­ture should clear the path for the use of nan­otech­nol­ogy de­vices that will be able to de­tect tox­ins, pathogens and chem­i­cals in the pro­duc­tion and pack­ag­ing of foods on the spot. Such de­vices could mon­i­tor the pres­ence of such ma­te­ri­als with­out on-site in­spec­tion. Also, they could be used to alert con­sumers to tainted prod­ucts at the re­tail level.

Un­for­tu­nately, Congress is more in­ter­ested in build­ing up the size of gov­ern­ment through fear-mon­ger­ing rather than in­sur­ing the pub­lic safety with ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy. Capone would be proud.

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