Food safety still on back burner

A worker loads pasteurized eggs onto a conveyer belt where they'll be transported for inspection and packaging at the National Pasteurized Eggs processing facility in Lansing, Ill.


Scott Jagow: China sent a clear signal today that it's serious about food and drug safety. The Chinese government executed the former head of the country's food and drug administration. He got the death penalty for taking payoffs from drug companies in exchange for approving untested medicine. One antibiotic killed at least 10 people.

Food and drug safety is also huge topic in Washington right now. Congress is scrutinizing fees drug makers pay to the FDA to speed up approvals. And reports of contaminated seafood and food additives from China have raised questions about the safety of our food supply. Helen Palmer reports from our Health Desk at WGBH.

Helen Palmer: The FDA's aware there's a problem. Back in May, it appointed a new food safety czar, but the more fundamental issues remain.

Wenonah Hauter: Half of our food is imported into the U.S. and yet less than 1 percent is actually inspected.

Wenonah Hauter of the consumer group Food and Water Watch says increasingly food comes from developing countries, which have inadequate sewage systems and often use chemicals and drugs banned in the U.S.

But the FDA has only 2,700 food safety officers to police a third of a million foreign and domestic food processors.

Hauter: This is really about budget and Congress's lack of commitment to providing enough funding to have adequate inspections.

$450 million is the agency's total food safety budget, says Hauter. Congress has reintroduced legislation to beef up food safety, but there's no certainty there'll be any action on it before the summer recess.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.


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