By Dan Shapley
Chief Blasted Over Agency's Plan To Close Labs Despite Admitted Weakness
The head of the Food and Drug Administration told Congress yesterday that his agency will be unable to adequately police the nation's food without a wholesale restructuring, and Congress told the FDA chief that his agency would be unable to adequately police the nation's food supply if it closed laboratories as part of that restructuring. Here's the biggest mistake both the testifier and the panel made: The future tense. The FDA's ability to police the nation's food supply is woefully inadequate. Today. As food imports flood in from approved facilities around the world -- from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, not to mention China -- the FDA inspects less than 1%. When it does inspect, it often finds problems. Congress and many within the agency says the FDA's plan to consolidate its 13 laboratories into seven facilities is a move in the wrong direction. FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach thinks it's a smart use of resources. The larger point is that this point is small potatoes. Until von Eschenbach reveals the wholesale restructuring plan that will prepare the agency for the realities of the 21st century food system, getting worked up about the number of labs on the map is a distraction. Oh, and don't forget: Until an effective restructuring takes place, expect to see more food scandals such as those that have revealed tainted pet food, toothpaste, seafood and other problems emanating from producers both here and abroad -- which should remind all of us that buying most of our food from local sources we can know and trust is one way to ensure that someone is policing the family's food supply.