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Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Experts Urge Congress To Strengthen FDA’s Enforcement Authority

FDA needs more enforcement authority, more resources and an approach to food safety that targets threats before outbreaks occur, according to a new report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

FDA monitors about 80% of the U.S. food supply for safety violations, and the agency for years has faced criticism because of its inability to oversee more than 150,000 food facilities, one million restaurants, more than two million farms and millions of tons of imported food (Pugh, McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/9).

The report -- which was requested by lawmakers -- urged Congress to amend the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to give the agency the power to issue mandatory food recalls, as well as to identify countries with questionable food safety systems and to ban food imports from those countries (Ferguson, CQ Today, 6/8).

According to the report, a "risk-based" approach focusing on areas that pose the greatest threat of contamination would help detect potential problems in all stages of food manufacturing and delivery before the products can sicken U.S. residents (McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/9).

The report also recommended that food facilities register with FDA and that the agency have the power to suspend the registrations for violations that threaten public health (CQ Today, 6/8). According to the report, FDA also should assess different approaches to regulation, such as delegating food facility inspections to the states (Fox, Reuters, 6/8).

In addition, the report supported the creation of a centralized food safety information center that would combine research, inspection, and testing data from state and federal agencies. The center also would recommend corrective actions, according to Robert Wallace, a public health professor at the University of Iowa and chair of the committee that authored the report (McClatchy/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/9).

Some Recommendations Already Included in Food Safety Bill

Some of the recommendations in the report are in a food safety bill (S 510) that would expand FDA's enforcement powers, CQ Today reports. However, the legislation has been stalled in the Senate. The House passed its own version of bill (HR 2749) last summer (CQ Today, 6/8).

Some lawmakers consider the report the latest in a series of studies proving that Congress should act on legislation strengthening FDA (Reuters, 6/8).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently said he wants the Senate to move on the legislation before the August recess, but advocacy groups are concerned that other legislative priorities will take precedence (CQ Today, 6/8).

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