In the 2006 Texas Agriculture Commissioner's race, Hank Gilbert warned eveyone who would listen that lax inspections (responsiblity of the Texas Agriculture Commission) endangered the nation's foodchain. The US has stricter rules regarding pesticides and food production than do other countries who import food through the US/Texas border.
Little has improved in the Texas Agriculture Commission since Todd Staples became Agriculture Commissioner in 2007. Instead, the international spotlight has watched as the peanut industry tanked following contamination of peanuts processed in Texas and sold to industrial clients who manufactured many of the nations grocery products containing peanuts!
In Washington, the Obama administration is attempting to address some food safety issues. A Federal approach, without effective efforts on the state level on border states will not solve the problem. Hopefully, the Federal Food Safety taskforce, is a much over-due start.
Washington Post Editorial - Monday, March 23, 2009
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The president appoints a working group to improve food safety.
SINCE 2006, the concept of food safety, as practiced by the federal government, has seemed oxymoronic. The recent concern about contaminated peanuts is but the latest in a series of food scares that included salmonella outbreaks involving tomatoes, peppers and spinach. With each occurrence, Congress thundered about the need to fix the way the nation safeguards its food supply, but little was done. Maybe more will happen now that President Obama has formed a Food Safety Working Group and selected a top-notch team to lead the Food and Drug Administration.
A congressional hearing on tainted peanuts last week unearthed more reasons for queasiness. The private inspection company hired by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) warned it of impending visits, giving the company plenty of time to tidy up what federal inspectors and others found during unannounced inspections: rat droppings, dead insects and rodents, and other unsanitary conditions. The troubles at PCA are symptoms of larger problems that need to be addressed.
Aside from increasing the number of federal inspectors and the frequency of visits they make to the country's nearly 150,000 food facilities, a number of good ideas are kicking around the Capitol. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls for contaminated food -- no more relying on the goodwill of businesses that might be tempted to put the bottom line above the public health -- and would require it to devise a system to trace food and produce from the farm to the dinner table. Legislation from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would require companies to test for the hazards that are most likely to occur in their products and then have the federal government devise standards for what constitutes a hazard.
The Food Safety Working Group will include Margaret A. Hamburg and Joshua Sharfstein. Dr. Hamburg, a highly regarded former New York City health commissioner and assistant secretary for health and human services under President Bill Clinton, was tapped by Mr. Obama to be the next FDA commissioner. The president nominated Dr. Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner, to be the FDA's principal deputy commissioner. Congress should move quickly to confirm them so they can get to work.