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In a report to be released on Friday, congressional investigators have determined that the The Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to combat food-borne illness are hampered by infrequent inspections, not enough staff and the failure to implement a program devoted to the safety of fresh produce. The Associated Press apparently obtained a draft of the report on Thursday.

The report, to be issued by the Governmental Accountability Office, states that only 1 percent of produce imported into the U.S. is inspected, and that the practice of mixing produce from several sources makes it hard to trace contamination.

Senator Barbara Baxter (D – California), commenting on the report, noted: “This report paints a frightening picture of the FDA’s fresh produce safety efforts. It should serve as a wake up call to do more to protect the nation’s food supply.”

The report says that inspections at produce-processing facilities are rare and that when problems are discovered, the FDA relies on the industry to correct them without oversight or follow-up.

From 2000 to 2007, the FDA detected food safety problems at more than 40 percent of the 2,002 plants inspected, yet half of those plants were inspected only once during the period. The plants with food-safety problems received only warning letters from the FDA, and even those ended in 2005.

“The agency seized no fresh produce, sought no injunctions and prosecuted no firms,” investigators said.

This report comes amid increasing demand for a restructuring of the Food and Drug Administration. As noted by this author previously, there is a move to split the FDA into separate food safety and drug/device safety responsibilities :

The FDA has been at the center of a number of recent controversies over its handling of food safety issues, including tracking tainted foods and the failure to act more quickly in response to foodborne outbreaks, to name a few.

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