GAO Report Faults FDA Oversight of Fresh Produce Imports
A GAO report has claimed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “examined less than 1 percent of the 7.6 million fresh produce lines
imported from fiscal years 2002 through 2007.” “Moreover, FDA acknowledged that it has not yet been able to conduct certain fresh produce work crucial to understanding the incidence of contamination of produce by pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella,” according to GAO, which attributed the failures to a lack of resources for either extramural research grant programs or internal research agendas. The report also noted that the agency “has no formal program devoted exclusively to fresh produce” and has not “reliably tracked its fresh produce spending. “What I found most interesting is that fresh produce has been a priority for FDA for nearly a decade, but all the initiatives the agency said it needs to implement to improve its oversight efforts have been delayed because of other pressing issues, like increasing response to bioterrorism and responding to foodborne outbreaks, like the jalapeño problem this summer,” the GAO director of food safety and agricultural issues, Lisa Shames, was quoted as saying. See Law 360, September 29, 2008.
Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner for Foods David Acheson has reportedly responded to GAO’s assessment by calling on Congress to give the agency more authority to enact “preventative controls” over fresh produce processing similar to those in place for seafood and fresh juice. “Having Congress give us explicit authority makes it a much more robust approach and gives more chance of success,” Acheson said. See The Associated Press, September 26, 2008.