After the massive petfood recalls hit the US market last year, many fingers - at least those belonging to members of the US Congress, consumers and the media - were pointed at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Why wasn't the agency inspecting all imported materials before they entered the country? Why weren't all US petfood plants inspected regularly?
Industry professionals know petfood safety is not so simple, nor does the responsibility lie with just one agency. In the US, other organizations - such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), state regulators, the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), among others - play a major role. And of course, the industry itself is largely responsible for its products safety.
But after several other categories of products imported from China, such as seafood and toys, were recalled last year, the focus on the FDA ratcheted up dramatically.
Results to date
As Dr. Stephen Sundlof, then director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, stated last fall, the petfood recall situation morphed into an overall food safety issue and the "China issue." At one point, 13 new federal bills were being considered by the US Congress. President George Bush created a new post, assistant commissioner for food protection (filled by Dr. David Acheson), within the FDA and directed the secretary of Human and Health Services (HHS) to immediately form an import safety task force.
This flurry of activity has already generated several outcomes:
- In September the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA) was passed, requiring new petfood safety systems and measures. (For a thorough discussion, see Dave Dzanis' December "Petfood Insights" column at www.petfoodindustry.com/FDAAA.)
- One segment of the FDAAA calls for new petfood ingredient, processing and labeling standards. Last month the FDA announced it would soon hold a meeting with key stakeholderssuch asAAFCO, AFIA, veterinarian associations and petfood manufacturersto obtain input. (As of press time, no date had been set.)
- In November HHS secretary Mike Leavitt announced the Food Protection Plan, which proposes the FDA use science and a risk-based approach to ensure the safety of domestic and imported foods (www.hhs.gov/news/press/2007pres/11/pr20071106a.html).
- In December the US signed a food and drug safety agreement with China to give American inspectors access to Chinese factories.
Show me the money
Considering how long it usually takes for new laws and government initiatives to happen, these events are encouraging. But unless the FDA receives more funding, will these or other outcomes really make a difference?
According to USA Today , half of the agency's additional 12% in food safety funding for this year will go to annual cost increases like pay raises, while the other half won't be available until July, subject to Congressional approval of a performance plan. (See www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2007-12-18-fda-food-safety_n.htm.)
Meanwhile, an advisory group from the food and drug industries reported the inadequate funding, among other factors, was diminishing the FDA's scientific capabilities, according to www.nature.com. Given its additional food safety mandates, its funding needs to be at least doubled, these experts said.
With this being a major election year in the USand none of the candidates for any office have food safety on their platformsit's difficult to believe the government will put its money where its mouth is any time soon.