The trio of tragedies that hit Japan are now spawning a fourth – the potential for radioactive contamination of food and water. There are now reports that the FDA has banned food imports from four prefectures – those located closest to the stricken nuclear power plant. The CNN report on the matter states that “[f]ood products from other parts of Japan will be tested as resources allow, but the FDA’s main focus is food from these four areas, the spokesperson said.” (emphasis added)
Radioactivity was first picked up in milk and spinach from near the plant. This report adds to it broader categories of fresh vegetables and fruit. However today it was reported that the tap water in Tokyo was found to contain twice the radiation level that is recommended for infants.
The presence of radiation appears like a ripple traveling out from a pebble dropped in water. Its effects continue to reverberate beyond the immediate area. If there is a presence of radiation in tap water, then theoretically the threat becomes more ubiquitous.
The FDA has dedicated a Web page to update the public on its efforts to ensure the safety of the food supply and imports around the Japanese situation, much of which rests on both inspections and testing. Inspections and testing are an essential role for the FDA yet there has been a reluctance, due to budgetary concerns, on the part of many in Congress to fully fund the Food Safety Modernization Act – and even proposals to cut FDA funding during this year’s budget cycle.
Especially as to the latter, it may be time for those advocates in Congress to re-think the notion, or else go home to explain to constituents why at a time of increased need for food inspections, the Congress decided to cut FDA funding to do just that.
According to reporting by Julie Appleby at USA Today – the cuts that were proposed in February aimed at FDA’s budget for this fiscal year would cut all FDA inspection programs and “the number of domestic food safety inspections made next year would fall by 5%, foreign drug plant inspections would drop 5.8%…”
The zeal for budget cutting may play well at home for some, but current events should temper the zeal. Cuts aimed at FDA inspection may save a few dollars, but in the end, it doesn’t make much sense. The expense associated with such cuts may be more than any of us want to think about, or could predict.