The recent contamination of spinach with E. coli bacteria is fostering renewed calls for a single, independent federal food safety agency that would regulate animal and plant production in an integrated way, according to an article scheduled for the Dec. 11 issue of the ACS? weekly news magazine, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).
C&EN Senior Editor Bette Hileman explains that a gap long has existed in the food regulatory system, with responsibilities split between the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No agency, however, oversees the kind of farm-based safety problems that led to the E. coli episode and other outbreaks.
The article notes a contrast in staffing at the two agencies, with USDA?s 7,000 inspectors able to visit 6,000 food processing plants daily and FDA?s 800 inspectors capable of inspecting a particular processing plant only once every five years. Hileman also describes how the spinach tragedy has led to suggestions for use of electron beam irradiation and special labels or codes that enable produce to be traced back to the farm where it was grown.