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Who's Watching Food Safety?

Both domestic food suppliers and those who export to the U.S. are watching to see the new food-safety plan that the Food and Drug Administration promises to release, possibly as early as this month.

Outbreaks of foodborne illness--linked to a range of products including fresh spinach and processed beef--have grabbed headlines in the last year. Although the FDA has traditionally reacted to outbreaks after they happen, some food-industry experts expect the agency to adopt the approach now taken by the Agriculture Department, which requires preventive controls from food processors. Since the USDA began requiring preventive controls from the meat industry in 1993 (in reaction to a deadly outbreak of E. coli), the number of cases of E. coli infections from meat and poultry dropped by 42 percent by 2004, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The FDA faces some big hurdles if it plans to require preventive controls from processors themselves. For one, the bulk of companies the USDA regulates are in the U.S.; only 33 foreign countries can export meat to America, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. In contrast, the FDA faces a flood of seafood imports from nearly 14,000 foreign processors to more than 4000 U.S. ports. Indeed, imports account for more than 83 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S.

Due in part to fear that consumers will be begin avoiding food they fear is unsafe, trade groups including the National Fisheries Institute have begun lobbying for more funding and authority for the FDA to oversee food safety.

Photo by © Christine Balderas

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