Food policy reformers seek improved produce tracking

December 29, 2008
by Maryn McKenna

When president-elect Barack Obama takes office next month, he will bring with him a long reform agenda. Some initiatives have already been made public: a jobs program, a huge public-works effort, the bailout of two Detroit automakers, and an enormous infusion of cash into major banks and Wall Street.

But simmering in the background is a substantial grassroots movement that is pressing the new administration to enact change within the government as well, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And a key part of any reform may involve correcting the deficiencies in what is now a complex and fragmented system for tracing contaminated produce items to their source.

The IOM report echoes recommendations made in April by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization Trust for America's Health (TFAH), which highlighted the mismatch between the FDA's budget and its responsibilities. The Trust said, for instance, that while the FDA is responsible for regulating 85% of food products in the United States, it has only half the budget and one-fourth the staff of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which accounts for the other 15%.

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