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Date: Aug. 20, 1998
Contacts: Dan Quinn, Media Relations Officer
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail email@example.com
NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE NOON EDT THURSDAY, AUG. 20
Science-Based, Unified Approach Needed
To Safeguard the Nation's Food Supply
WASHINGTON -- Outdated food
safety laws and a fragmented federal structure serve as barriers to improving protection
of the nation's food supply from contamination or other hazards, according to Ensuring
Safe Food From Production to Consumption, a new congressionally mandated report from a
committee of the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. Federal
officials should adopt a science-based approach that helps them prevent, identify, and
target the largest threats. Arcane safety laws must be repealed, and one individual should
be appointed to provide a single point of leadership to implement a comprehensive plan
that pulls together efforts currently spread across at least 12 federal agencies.
"The United States has some of the
attributes of an effective food safety system, but it lacks a central authority and is
hampered by old laws that don't allow flexible responses to today's threats," said
committee chair John C. Bailar III, chair of the department of health studies at the
University of Chicago. "As the challenges to ensuring safe food change and grow more
complex, it is crucial that we rethink how to address the greatest threats to human
Some 9,000 deaths
and 81 million illnesses each year have been attributed to consumption of contaminated
food in the United States. Increasing reliance on minimally processed
fresh fruits and vegetables, emergence of new strains of food-borne bacteria,
the centralization and growth of large food distributors, consumer
preference for ready-to-eat foods, and a growing number of people
at high risk for severe or fatal food-borne illnesses have placed new stresses on
the system in recent years. Currently, federal agencies responsible for food safety often
lack coordination and consistency in their missions, policies, regulations, and
enforcement practices, are not well-integrated with state and local activities, and are
too driven by responding to crises rather than by planning ways to prevent them,
the report says.
The report recommends that:
> The food safety system should be based on
science. With limited resources to address safety issues, regulatory priorities should be
supported by strong scientific evidence that aims at prevention when possible, and
identifies and addresses the greatest threats, including microbiological pathogens,
naturally occurring toxins, allergens, food additives, agricultural chemicals,
environmental contaminants, animal drug residues, excessive consumption of some dietary
supplements, and improper methods of handling and preparing food.
> Congress should establish a unified,
central framework for managing food safety programs, headed by one official with control
of resources for all federal food safety activities. This person would have responsibility
for management of food-borne disease outbreaks, setting standards for food safety,
inspection, monitoring, disease surveillance, risk assessment, regulation enforcement,
research, and education. Although many members of the committee believe that the best
arrangement would be to establish a single food safety agency, federal officials may be
able to address the needs identified in the report through other organizational
structures. All options meeting the criteria of an effective system should be carefully
reviewed before the final organizational structure is determined.
> Congress should change federal statutes so
that inspection, research, and enforcement are based on scientifically supportable
assessments of risk. Some outmoded safety statutes, such as the visual inspection
system for meat and poultry, may even detract from protection efforts by diverting
resources from implementation of science-based inspection reforms. At a minimum, Congress
should no longer require inspection of each animal carcass, as required by laws
controlling meat and poultry inspection. Congress also should mandate a single set of
regulations for all foods, and should specify that foods be imported only from countries
with food inspection systems deemed equivalent to that of the United States. Additional
resources should be devoted to prevention and to implementing the Hazard Analysis Critical
Control Point system used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug
Administration to detect or control for potential hazards at each step, from raw material
to the finished product.
> A comprehensive national food safety plan
should be developed. The plan should support research aimed at prevention and
detection of risks, and include surveillance needed to monitor changes in the food supply
or consumption that might pose new risks. It should further integrate federal efforts with
state and local activities, while addressing the distinctive hazards associated with
Americans' increasing reliance on imported foods.
The current food safety system has evolved
piecemeal over the past century in response to changes in the food supply. Although
efforts have been made to modernize it -- most recently with the president's National Food
Safety Initiative of 1997 -- such efforts take only the first steps toward an effective
national approach, the report says.
Although the Food and Drug Administration issued
a Food Code in 1993 with recommended standards for handling food, it has not yet been
adopted by many state or local authorities. The federal government should mandate
adherence to minimum standards for food products and processes, the committee said, and
allocate adequate funding to help support state and local food safety activities.
A committee roster follows. The Institute of
Medicine is a private, non-profit organization that provides health policy advice under a
congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. The National Research
Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the
National Academy of Engineering. The study was sponsored by U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
Copies of Ensuring Safe Food
From Production to Consumption are available from the National Academy
Press at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. The
cost of the report is $29.95 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.00 for the first copy
and $.50 for each additional copy. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and
Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).
[This news release is available on the World
Wide Web at www.nas.edu
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Food and Nutrition Board
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Board on Agriculture
Committee to Ensure Safe Food from Production
John C. Bailar III, M.D., Ph.D.(1) (chair)
Department of Health Studies
University of Chicago
Carole A. Bisogni, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, and
Associate Director for Academic Affairs
Division of Nutritional Sciences
David L. Call, Ph.D.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Marsha N. Cohen, J.D.
Professor of Law
Hastings College of the Law
University of California
Michael P. Doyle, Ph.D.
Regents Professor of Food Microbiology, and
Director, Center for Food Safety and Quality Enhancement
University of Georgia
Delia A. Hammock
Good Housekeeping Institute
New York City
Lonnie J. King, D.V.M.
College of Veterinary Medicine
Michigan State University
Gilbert A. Leveille, Ph.D.
Richard A. Merrill, L.L.B.(1)
Daniel Caplin Professor of Law
University of Virginia School of Law
Sanford A. Miller, Ph.D.
Dean, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and
Professor, Departments of Biochemistry and Medicine
University of Texas Health Science Center
Harley W. Moon, D.V.M., Ph.D.(2)
F.K. Ramsey Chair of Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary Medical Research Institute
Iowa State University
Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D.
State Epidemiologist, and
Chief, Acute Disease Epidemiology Section
Minnesota Department of Health
Thomas D. Trautman, Ph.D.
Principal Scientist, Toxicology and Regulatory Affairs
Allison A. Yates
Charlotte Kirk Baer
Senior Program Officer
Senior Program Officer
(1) Member, Institute of Medicine
(2) Member, National Academy of Sciences
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