Food Safety: What's in Your Mouth?

Tuesday - 3/17/2009, 12:38pm EDT

William Hubbard

The nation's food safety system is a "hazard to public health". Now what?

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

According to President Barack Obama, nation's food safety system is a "hazard to public health" and overdue for an overhaul. In very nearly the same breath, the President announced the nomination of former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to head the Food and Drug Administration.

FederalNewsRadio asked William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner for policy and planning at the FDA, where the problems lie.

FDA does have a vast responsibility. It regulates about 25% of consumer spending, which is a huge amount of products, and some think the foods system at FDA should be broken off into a separate food safety agency, but there are also reasons not to do that because FDA, I think, is a well-functioning agency if it's adequately resourced. But some programs in FDA, like the food safety program, have simply not have the staff to keep up with the challenges.

Adding to the challenges, then, might not normally make sense, but when it comes to the possible future of tobacco regulation, Hubbard says the FDA is up to the task, given the tools it needs.

In my view, the tobacco bill comes with a very sufficient funding source of user fees from the tobacco manufacturers so I would be pretty optimistic that could be a successful program because it's going to have sufficient funding.

Hubbard says that instead of getting down in the weeds in the inspection process, the FDA should be inspecting the process, not the product.

The problem is that the current system relies on an FDA Inspector to go into a facility and approve it is operating properly. That means you just get a snapshot of that day. Both the industry and the FDA scientists recognize that there is a more modern way to do it using a system known as "preventive controls" where the manufacturer monitors their own system every day so that FDA inspection is really more audit of the manufacturer's system, and that's been proven to work in other areas. So that's the kind of change that needs to occur in food safety.

It goes to follow, says Hubbard, since the same changes have been made at other agencies, like the FAA.

It's a common process that was developed first by... Pillsbury for NASA for the space program back in the 1960's and FDA uses it on seafood and juice now, so it needs to be expanded to the entire food supply.

Overall, Hubbard says the American public is being well served by the agency and should have confidence in the food supply.

FDA is an agency that touches us everyday from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night and it's the kind of agency that needs to be given the ability to do its job because it literally touches our lives. It regulates not only food and drugs but our TV sets, our cell phones, our medical equipment, it has a vast responsibility, and so we need a strong FDA.

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