Monday, December 3, 2007

FDA underfunding puts consumers at risk

Proponents of cutting government often like to point to regulatory failures as an example of the government's inability to address problems. I tend to think that predicting failure while simultaneously cutting government beyond its ability to effectively regulate is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Along those lines, the USA Today had this article on a report chronicling the underfunding of the Food and Drug Administration and the dangers this underfunding poses to the safety of consumers food and drugs. The report cited in the article described a "plethora of inadequacies" with the FDA, including the following list:
  • Inadequate inspections of manufacturers, noting that foodmakers, for example, are inspected about once every 10 years.

  • A "badly broken" food-import system and food supply "that grows riskier each year." In the past 35 years, FDA inspections of the food supply have dropped 78% due to soaring numbers of products and inadequate FDA funding.

  • A depleted FDA staff, which is about the same size as it was 15 years ago despite huge growth in agency responsibilities. Instead of being proactive, the agency is often in "fire-fighting" mode.

  • A workforce with a "dearth" of scientists who understand emerging technologies. Turnover rates in some scientific positions at the FDA run twice that of other government agencies.

  • An "obsolete" information-technology system.

The report also noted that although the FDA regulates 80% of America's food, it receives only about one-third of the nation's food-safety budget while the U.S. Department of Agriculture gets the rest. A former FDA associate director is quoted as saying the preparers of the report were "horrified by what they found" and that they came away concluding that the FDA was unable to do its job now let alone provide increased protection of the nation's food supply.

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