Putting FDA Under the Congressional Microscope

J0433129Last week, the FDA offered testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding food safety delivered by Stephen F. Sundlof, DVM, PhD,  Director at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 

It is worth noting that the title of the hearing was "Regulatory Failure:  Must America Live with Unsafe Food?" which gives you an idea that the FDA was going into this proposition facing some bias.  Note these opening remarks from Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich):

Since our investigation began 14 months ago, there have been at least 163 recalls and health alerts associated with FDA-regulated products.  Despite the USDA’s hefty budget and large inspection force, it too is not immune from problems. Since 2007, there have been at least 67 meat recalls totaling approximately 180 million pounds of meat. There has also been an alarming jump in the number of recalls and illnesses associated with E. coli- contaminated meat. In 2007 alone, there were 20 recalls of meat products due to being tainted with this deadly pathogen e-coli. These recalls affected about 33 million pounds of meat. This compares with just eight recalls and just over 155,000 pounds of meat in 2006 due to E. coli contamination.

The sub-Committee is investigating the FDA and food safety along with five other investigations into FDA operations.  The sub-committee is investigating FDA compensation practices, FDA drug safety, the FDA regulatory process, FDA medical device safety, the re-organization of the Office of Regulatory Affairs and an investigation into FDA conflicts of interest.  But that is only one sub-committee.

And, as noted last week, this quarter, there have been requests for two research divisions – the General Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service to conduct separate investigations into FDA practices. 

If you look at the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, you can find more investigations into food safety and FDA operations.  On February 27, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent the FDA a letter outlining a host of food safety funding questions.  Earlier in February, Congressman Waxman also sent a letter to FDA requesting a briefing on the status of inspections of a particular company located in China.  There were also letters sent to FDA on January 22 and January 23 requesting other information from the FDA. 

This might only be scratching the surface, not even considering the Senate. 

FDA cannot afford to respond to this in a reactive manner.  FDA needs to employ good public affairs crisis planning here and address the issue comprehensively, rather than one-at-a-time responses. 

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