September 13, 2010

Survey Finds Public Health Jeopardized By Food Industry

A survey of government scientists and inspectors said that the food industry is jeopardizing public health by withholding information from food safety investigators or pressuring regulators to withdraw or alter policies designed to protect consumers.

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a study on Monday that found one-in-four of those surveyed have seen corporate interests force their agency to withdraw or modify a policy or action that is designed to protect consumers.

Pressure to overhaul the food safety system has grown after several high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have sickened thousands and shaken the public's confidence in the safety of the food supply.
The survey found that over 38 percent of those respondents said public health has been hurt by businesses influencing food safety policy at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Agriculture Department.

"Upper level management does not adequately support field inspectors and the actions they take to protect the food supply," Dean Wyatt, a USDA veterinarian who oversees federal slaughterhouse inspectors, told Reuters. "Not only is there lack of support, but there's outright obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power."

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said their agency is "moving in the right direction," despite the concerns.

There were 8,122 individuals working on food safety at the FDA and USDA who took the survey.  Just over 1,700 employees from all levels of the food safety system responded. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foodborne illnesses sicken about 76 million people in the U.S. every year and are fatal to 5,000.

The salmonella outbreak that sparked a recall of over half a billion eggs from two Iowa plants in August could provide extra momentum for the Senate to try and act on its own food safety bill later on this month.


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