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For Immediate
April 28, 1999

For more information:

  Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal
Director of Food Safety on the
Introduction of the Consumer Food Safety Act of 1999
Washington, DC
April 28, 1999

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a cornerstone of consumer protection in the US government. It regulates such high-risk products as drugs, medical devices, and foods. Although meat and poultry are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is FDA’s job to prevent a cornucopia of food safety hazards. From fish to eggs, from breakfast cereal to dessert, many of the foods FDA oversees are linked to food-poisoning outbreaks.

Earlier this year, CSPI released Outbreak Alert (Acrobat 953k), a report detailing our findings on 225 food-poisoning outbreaks. One of our most surprising discoveries from these outbreaks was that FDA-regulated foods caused twice as many outbreaks as foods regulated by the USDA. While most foods regulated by FDA are thought to be low risk, fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, juice products and eggs have each been linked to consumer illnesses, and sometimes even deaths.

Today, we are releasing a chart that further illustrates the hazards linked to FDA-regulated foods.

A Cornucopia of Hazards 1990-1999
Foodborne-Illness Outbreaks Linked to FDA Foods

As this chart shows, we have now documented nearly 200 outbreaks linked to FDA foods since 1990, including new problems such as hazardous bacteria on lettuce and parasites and viruses on berries. Just last summer, for example, there were several outbreaks linked to alfalfa sprouts. Harmful strains of E. coli and Salmonella shouldn’t be showing up on a healthy food like sprouts, yet they are.

The fact that hazards are showing up on new foods is a disturbing trend. Today, consumers must rely on weak government oversight of the food industry to correct those problems, and it clearly isn’t working. Let’s look at the facts:

Food safety inspections have been decreasing. FDA is conducting a fraction of the inspections that it conducted in 1981. Most plants regulated by FDA can expect a visit from the federal agency about once every 10 years. Inspectors report finding more and more hazardous conditions in the plants they visit. The Consumer Food Safety Act will require FDA to check food plants quarterly.

Import inspections are almost non-existent. FDA inspects only one or two out of every one hundred import shipments. FDA reports that each import inspector now handles almost twice the workload of just five years ago. The Consumer Food Safety Act will give FDA the ability to inspect more food at the border and to send inspectors to foreign countries to check their food safety programs and food processing plants, just as the USDA does today for meat and poultry.

Recalls of food for life-threatening microbial contamination have increased almost five-fold since 1998. The Consumer Food Safety Act should prevent more contaminated food from ever reaching the market. In addition, the bill gives FDA mandatory recall authority, to ensure that contaminated food is actually taken off supermarket shelves.

New hazards are emerging faster than either research or education efforts are being dedicated to address them. The Consumer Food Safety Act directs research and education efforts to finding the real hazards in the food supply and telling consumers how to avoid them.

Consumers need a strong FDA to restore their faith that the food supply is becoming safer, rather than less safe. The Consumer Food Safety Act is urgently needed to restore consumers’ confidence that the government is doing all it can to ensure the safety of the food supply.

Instead of once in a decade inspections, the Consumer Food Safety Act calls for inspection of food plants four times a year. Instead of allowing no access to foreign producers, FDA would have the right to visit and inspect all food producers, even those in other countries, which is the same as USDA does today for meat and poultry products. Instead of voluntary recalls, FDA could order contaminated food off the supermarket shelves.

[Food Safety]