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New challenges: FDA plans for protection of U.S. food

The Food and Drug Administration is outlining the steps it is taking to protect the nation's food supply in a recently-released plan of attack.

“Protecting and Advancing America's Health: A Strategic Action Plan for the 21st Century” is a five-part plan highlighting what action the agency is taking to address the new challenges facing the agency. The five priority goals outlined in the plan are: efficient, science-based risk management; patient and consumer safety; better-informed consumers; counter-terrorism; and a strong FDA.

FDA Commissioner Mark B. McClellan says, “This plan is a roadmap for how we are meeting to the new public health challenges that we face, and how we are helping to bring new 21st century knowledge about medicines and foods to the greatest number of people who can safely benefit from them.”

McClellan says that while the challenges his agency is facing are greater than ever before, FDA's ability to meet these challenges has never been better. “We no longer talk exclusively about food safety. We must now also worry about food security and protecting our food supply from deliberate attack.

“We are moving toward a science-based, life-cycle approach to assuring the safety of food products. This approach, based on the principles of efficient risk management, will enable us to achieve the greatest food protection with our limited resources,” he says. “For example, when it comes to bulk imports, instead of a taking a snapshot at the border by examining and sampling a particular shipment, we're trying to get a broader picture that covers the product's history from raw materials, through production, transportation to the U.S. manufacturer or producer, and to the ultimate consumer.”

Rather than protecting the nation's food supply against bioterrorism, FDA officials say the agency has historically focused on protecting the food supply from naturally-occurring hazards. To this end, government scientists are working to develop new antidotes and vaccines to protect against potential biological, chemical, and radiological attacks.

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which was signed into law in June of that year, gives the FDA $545 million in funding to secure the nation's food supply. The legislation also requires the federal agency register food processors and inspect their records, detain adulterated food, and insure the safety of imported foods.

Among the objectives developed by FDA as part of its “strategic plan,” is the goal to implement a comprehensive food security strategy to insure the safety of foods regulated by the FDA.

“FDA must uphold its responsibility for insuring the safety of approximately 80 percent of the nation's food supply. The possibility of food products being used as a vehicle for attack is particularly worrisome because such an event potentially affects everyone in the U.S.,” McClellan says.

The absence of a proactive effort to protect U.S. agriculture from terrorist threats could devastate the industry, FDA officials say. “U.S. agriculture contributes $1 trillion to our gross domestic product (GDP) annually and provides 22 percent of all jobs in this country,” McClellan says. “The production of food is so extensive that if even a small number of contaminants were intentionally introduced to some part of the food chain, such an incident could seriously damage public confidence in the safety of the nation's food supply and could result in staggering economic losses for the agriculture industry.”


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