Can the FDA guarantee our food is safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for ensuring the safety of goods imported to our country. To protect consumers from dangerous or defective products, inspectors must inspect the shipments that come in by land, air and sea. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the FDA is no longer up to the task.

Based on current projections, the FDA will be responsible for regulating roughly 24 million shipments in 2011. While FDA inspectors are not expected to physically examine the majority of those shipments, their ability to examine even the shipments marked as “high-risk” is under question. In an internal report filed in July of this year, the FDA acknowledged that it does not have the resources to keep up with the increased shipments that are a natural byproduct of globalization.

In addition to understaffing, the FDA faces a number of challenges. Some importers purposefully mislabel goods in order to get counterfeit merchandise or substandard products onto our shelves. If a manufacturer is known to produce dangerous or defective goods, it is likely to be flagged by the FDA’s computer system called Predictive Risk-based Evaluation for Dynamic Import Compliance Targeting, or PREDICT. Importers get to know which shipments will be targeted and they may take steps to thwart investigators.

Part of the problem is that the FDA has been slow to recognize the realities of today. The inspection system focuses much of its attention on domestic manufacturers and leaves little left over for international imports. Without massive changes in the way the FDA operates, the food and drugs imported from manufacturers in Mexico, China and other foreign countries will remain largely unexamined.

Source: TODAY.com, “Flood of food imported to U.S., but only 2 percent inspected,” by Brad Racino, 3 October 2011.