Melamine Adulterated Food On Food and Drug Administration Resources
Since melamine adulteration is a relatively new phenomenon, there are scant resources for data. Most papers that have been published have to do with the veterinary angle which studies the pathology of the effects of melamine on animals. Another source for literature has been the publication of new rapid screening analytical laboratory methods that were developed in response to the melamine crisis. Prior to the pet food recalls, such a method did not exist. A third avenue of research reveals many instances of Congressional testimony on the part of food advocacy groups, food industry experts and FDA officials that address the growing problem. Several articles describe the current food response system within FDA, particularly the Food Protection Plan: a plan put forward by the FDA in November 2007 to address food safety and food borne outbreaks, both intentional and non-intentional. There are also a great many articles written in food chemical publications that provide insight into the time line involved in responding to this emergent situation.
Most of the articles and testimony concluded that FDA has been starved for resources in recent years and that responding to food emergencies has further stretched their ability to perform their myriad tasks which cover a broad range of regulation. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy organization with 900,000 subscribers, provided Congress with testimony on multiple occasions from July 2007 through February 2008 on food safety. Food related illnesses and deaths since 2006 have been related to a variety of products from spinach to peanut butter to melamine. In each of these cases, and others, the FDA has had to determine the source of the illnesses and then remove the product in question from the U.S. marketplace. Melamine is a particularly worrying problem, since it was an intentional adulteration that went undetected until American pets began dying. In the post- 9/11 world, it is events such as those that carry the most weight in the minds of Americans and Congress. The passage of the Bioterrorism Act in 2002 attempted to secure the food supply with the formation of the Prior Notice Center at FDA. This center, co-located with Customs, requires all food growers, manufacturers, shippers and importers to register with FDA and provide prior notice of their arrival at U.S. borders and ports. This is primarily an administrative review and it failed to prevent entry of the tainted products responsible for the pet deaths related to melamine from China, hot peppers from Mexico, Hepatitis A from green onions grown in Mexico or the current melamine adulterated milk products. In light of this, it is clear that further measures are needed to address the health and safety of imported products, particularly food.
Literature Related to Food Safety Structure at FDA
Food safety has always been a pressing issue in the United States. Even before 9/11, the U.S. General Accounting Office wrote a report on agencies having plans to respond to deliberate contamination of the food supply (GAO/T-RCED-99-256, Aug. 4, 1999). This report, concentrated on how effectively food safety agencies could respond to such a scenario. Their conclusion was that, although both the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and FDA had emergency food safety response systems in place, both agencies would benefit from running various scenarios involving the intentional contamination of the food supply and determine how to improve their systems, based on the results of the exercises.
In her testimony, (Congressional Hearing, House Energy and Commerce, 7/17/2007), Caroline Smith Dewaal, Director of the Food Safety Center for Science in the Public Interest, deplored the current safety of food in the U.S., particularly imports. She compared import screening methods between FSIS and FDA and her conclusion is that “FDA’s procedures are much less stringent and much less effective” than FSIS’ procedures. She ended her testimony by saying that U.S. food safety laws are over 100 years old and are not equipped to contend with a global market of imports increasing exponentially and, with bioterrorism, a real threat in today’s world.
Congress has held many hearings on FDA’s role in food safety since March 2007. They initiated several congressional investigations as a result of those hearings. One investigation (Congress Daily, 10/11/2007) reported that “Chinese agricultural and seafood imports increased 346 percent between 1996 and 2006” and that “the Chinese food supply chain fails to meet international food safety standards”. Committees ranging from Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight have recomme