The FDA is responsible for safeguarding the security of Americans by ensuring that all types of Pharmaceutical and biological products, cosmetics, medical equipment and the nation’s food supplies are inspected and meet the standards expected. However, this has been compromised because the organization faces severe under funding. Hence, the nation is experiencing increased cases of health problems like poisoning, illnesses and even deaths resulting from consuming infected food. To prevent more fatal outcomes in future, boosting FDA funding is mandatory for improved performance.
There are various estimates with regard to cases relating to deaths resulting from consuming infected food. “Ames, Iowa-based Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, an organization composed of 36 scientific societies, suggests that anywhere from 6.5 million to 33 million illnesses and up to 9000 deaths each year may be caused by food borne hazards” (Schmidt p.2).
Further, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that yearly, 76 Million cases of illnesses associated with food contamination and over 300,000 people are hospitalized. In addition, 5000 people and more die from illnesses associated with the same. These figures are particularly threatening and worrying especially due to the fact that the causes are known and these incidences can be avoided altogether. It is even more annoying because America has adequate capacity in terms of financial resources and technical know how to adequately address this problem.
On January seventh, two thousand and eight, The Massachusetts Department of Public Health found out that a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes was traced back to a milk-processing plant. Well, the bacterium is in most cases found in such environments though it is particularly concentrated around domesticated and wild animals. One hundred samples were taken and the results showed that sixteen of those contained the bacterium.
The factory claims that it complied with the FDA regulations but an outbreak still occurred. Of course this was not intentional; changes in processing food could cause an outbreak. Changes in food processing in many instances provide suitable conditions for specific bacterium to thrive. Donald Schaffner, an extension specialist with the Department of Food Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey says, some emerging strains have resulted from changes in voluminous food production.
“Sometimes, a change in food production optimizes proliferation of a rare strain and makes that strain more common,” he says. “Other times, these unique strains have always been there, but we get to know them because new tools and techniques tell us they are there” (Schmidt p.3).
Other causes of food contamination include poor sanitation. In these cases, food is not well handled by the manufacturers who pay little or no attention to sanitation of the equipment they use during processing. Naturally, most foods have small quantities of bacteria which have no effect to humans.
However, these if poorly handled are a risk to human health. Also, if food is not well prepared, it contributes to food borne diseases. Animal products should especially be given attention during preparation. Lastly, inappropriate food storage mechanisms in various ways do contribute to multiplying of the bacteria, causing food poisoning.
Recently, America has experienced a number of food borne diseases being contacted by its population. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such diseases include salmonellosis, listeriosis, and hemolytic uremic syndrom.
Presently, the FDA is undergoing great criticism as a result of its inability to keep the public free of contaminated food. Officials from FDA have on certain occasions acknowledged that they can not tell if the product is contaminated before they get complaints from the public and the police.
Besides, the FDA in some cases actually knows about food contamination in certain manufacturing plants and farms but fail to act accordingly until death and illness cases are reported. For instance, in the cases of contamination and sanitation problems at a Peanut butter manufacturing company in Georgia and on Spinach farms in California, the FDA acted only after three deaths and hundreds of sicknesses were reported. This apparently implies incompetence on their part.
The FDA staff is estimated to be around seven thousand people. However, this number of workers is expected to inspect close to sixty two thousand factories as well as other imported products from other countries. This is certainly a huge workload. Based on the above statistics, it would take the FDA thirteen years to inspect each factory once, without having to inspect the seemingly increasing products from other countries. This poor performance is because of under funding.
The organization only receives a third of the budget allocated to food safety despite the fact that it controls almost 80% of the nation’s food. It hence finds it tricky to perform tasks expected of it because of these limited funds. Its state of technology also wants making it difficult to compare and analyze any reports about dangerous products and substances. Most of the reports handed in by the FDA field inspectors are usually hand written and hence can not pass through the system in an efficient way.
The congress is working round the clock to ensure that the FDA is financially empowered to curb the challenges it faces. It asserts that in order to work effectively in the coming five years, the FDA would need an increase in its funding by fifteen percent. Clearly, there is not enough manpower to effectively oversee the sanitation of food that Americans consume each day.
Another concern is about the imported food. Leaders from the Democratic council claim that ninety eight point seven percent of the food from other countries is often not inspected. This is worrying because several countries America imports food from have a history of contamination and disease. Urgent attention need to be given to this concern especially because of the current trend that has seen increasingly many countries manufacture contaminated food, even those whose technology and standards were considered to be satisfactory. An example would be China in the case of contaminated milk.
Since the number of food products entering the country is so much that the FDA can not handle each and every product, loopholes are created, giving room to infected products to reach the market and consequently be consumed without knowledge.
Americans are susceptible to consuming contaminated food as the cases of contamination increase. While this threat is glaring, “The FDA, on the other hand, limits its oversight to random port-of-entry inspection of imported foods. But in the same way that the FDA has been unable to keep up domestic production, it is overwhelmed by imported foods as well, and can only inspect a round of two percent of overseas shipments” (Schmidt p.2)
Poor performance of the PDA and its failure to protect the health of the Americans is contributing to more and more tainted food products coming in the country. America is the biggest importer of fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts from especially China. If the current trend holds, this nation is at risk of consuming contaminated food from China.
Because of the inability of the FDA to perform effectively, this country has turned in to a dumping site for infected foods and drugs. Well, other countries seem to be aware of this and may be that’s the reason why currently, more cases are reported more often. Apparently, veterinary drugs also find their way in to the country illegally. Consequently, the health of our domestic animals including pets is at stake. Very many incidences have seen pets die because of consuming contaminated feeds from China. This means that indirectly, human health is at risk as we consume products from the animals we keep as well as the animals themselves.
In order to address the raised concerns and restore the trust Americans once had in FDA, the government should financially empower the agency. With adequate financial empowerment, it will be able to execute its duties accordingly and boost the health of many Americans who are adversely affected by its incompetence.
Schmidt, Charles W. “Safe Food: An All-Consuming Issue.” Brogan & Partners 107.3 Mar 1993 144-A149. 26 Feb 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3434501?seq=2>.
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