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Finally, A Call for Food Safety

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Over these past months, I have provided numerous commentaries related to incidents of food contamination resulting in human safety and massive product recall.  The latest incidents involving salmonella contamination of peanut butter and peanut-related products distributed to institutions and numerous other food-related supply chains will be long cited as a wake-up call to today’s overall vulnerability of contamination anywhere along the supply chain, and the obvious lack of adequate controls that exist today.

A recent announcement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) should therefore capture your attention.  GMA is an industry association representing more than 200 companies that manufacture and market branded and private label consumer goods.  Member companies include names like Birds Eye Foods, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Con-Agra Foods, General Foods, Kraft Foods, and Unilever among others. This is known in trade circles as a very influential industry organization.

GMA has publicly stated that “food safety is the industry’s most important priority, and supports proposals requiring all food companies to have a comprehensive food safety plan in place“.  In an opinion article published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, GMA President and CEO Pam Bailey calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration to increase the FDA food budget to at least $900 million, allowing the FDA to hire more qualified staff and inspectors, invest in advanced technologies, and expand monitoring programs. Ms. Burton writes:  “Congress should: require every food company to have a food safety plan available for FDA confirmation; require that food importers police their foreign suppliers and make a foreign supplier food safety plan available to FDA; focus inspections on facilities and foods that pose the greatest risk of contamination that could result in food-borne illness or injury; give FDA the power to establish federal safety standards for certain fruits and vegetables – when risk and science demonstrate that standards are needed; and give FDA the authority to order a mandatory recall when a company has refused to conduct a voluntary recall and there is a serious risk to public health“.

And while this public call comes from the consumer goods industry, the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry previously called for the Secure Supply Chain initiative that would voluntarily enlist 100 drug makers that would help demonstrate the feasibility of guaranteeing the safety of foreign-produced drugs and active ingredients.  As was noted in a posting in January, I was not totally convinced that a complete turn towards industry self-regulation was going to in itself provide a secure supply chain.  While it was a step in the right direction.  I leaned more toward higher regulation until the industry can prove it is ready and equipped for responsive self-regulation.

I absolutely applaud GMA for this action, and you should as well.  It would now appear that the GMA has embraced the notion of both higher self-policing as well as increased FDA oversight and inspection.

It’s now time for the pharmaceutical industry to also actively support these measures with the same pubic and in-house commitment, and for the U.S. Congress to fund oversight needs.

Enough is enough in terms of the safety of food and drug-related supply chains.

Agree or disagree?

 Bob Ferrari

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