Monday, April 23, 2007

What's With the FDA???

What is going on with all the food-borne illnesses? You would think in a country that is so conscious about washing hands and being sanitary, we wouldn’t have these problems. In the past year we have had a ridiculous amount of disease outbreaks that have caused serious illness and even death!

Remember the spinach from California?
The peanut butter fiasco?
The deaths resulting from tainted pet food? California officials found that hogs that were butchered for the pet food ate food tainted with melamine. Melamine’s tell-tale white crystals were found in the food itself and in the kidneys of the animals that died after eating the tainted pet food. Melamine, by the way, is used in cleaning foams and laminate floors!

To me, it seems that tainted food and the ensuing health disasters and recalls are on the rise. Well, maybe it is on the rise…
Mexico, China, and India are the top three countries the U.S. trades with that fail the FDA’s checks at importation.
But get this – our trade with those countries has doubled in the past five years because those countries are also the cheapest to trade with!!!

Granted, demand for products processed overseas has grown steadily with a population of immigrants who want familiar comfort foods and people who expect fast, easy food even when it isn’t in season. But how much sense does it make to import more food from these risky countries without at least upping the inspections? Why does the FDA continue to stand idly by and watch us get sick?

FACT - the FDA only had (and still has) enough inspectors to inspect 1% of the 8.9 million imported shipments of 2006!
FACT - because of past issues with seafood and produce, they are the most frequently inspected imports. BUT ingredients are never inspected, according to former inspector Carl Nielsen, who was in charge of making sure the right shipments were inspected.
FACT - ingredients are important to inspect, because they are added to everything to extend shelf life. If they are contaminated, no one knows about it until people get sick or even die.
FACT - in 2005, the ConAgra Foods plant in Georgia (the same plant that produced the salmonella-tainted peanut butter) was inspected by FDA inspectors after complaints of salmonella contamination were reported. When the plant refused to hand over documents to the FDA, the FDA left and did not bother to come back!!
FACT - only NOW is that Georgia plant closed, after the salmonella did its damage. It was found that the sprinkler system malfunctioned, triggering dormant salmonella to grow and taint the food produced by the plant!

Why would the FDA allow itself to be bullied like that? According to Nielsen, unless there is a known problem, food will go through uninspected, regardless of pesticides and chemicals known to be present in the shipment. Looks like plants can get away with it too, even when they blatantly refuse to comply with the FDA!

Unfortunately, although our imports have drastically increased since the 1970’s, the funding for the food safety realm of the budget has decreased from half of the total budget to a quarter!

So what can we do? Obviously, reading the labels carefully isn’t enough! Organic products can be difficult to purchase because they are so expensive. All I can say is this: hope that as more people buy organic, the price will go down. But for now, wash every piece of produce thoroughly, keep an eye on recalls, and help petition the government to make the FDA do its job!


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