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A food-safety crisis?

(article, Kim Carlson)

In this era of tainted spinach and contaminated peanut butter, it's perhaps not a surprise, and certainly no comfort, that the FDA is doing fewer inspections than in the recent past, according to an AP article published today.

An analysis showed that inspection numbers dropped 47 percent from 2003 to 2006. Does it follow that fewer inspections mean that greater numbers of tainted foods are getting into the food system? 

The FDA says it's doing what it can on limited resources. Last year, the article says, the United States imported $10 billion more in food and drinks than it exported (itself a startling statistic); the FDA inspected 1.3 percent of those imported items — about three-quarters as much as in 2003. 

But that means there are fewer resources available to do inspections of foods made in the United States; in fact, they've decreased by nearly 75 percent over the last few years.

bq. "We're applying resources to targeted areas. So in a way, it's not a matter of 'Are you inspecting one out of 100 or 10 out of 100?' The real issue is if you can define risk. Are you applying the 10 inspectors to the 10 areas of concern? Then it's essentially you're covering 100 percent of your problem, which is not covering 100 percent of the universe," FDA commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach said.

There are a lot of numbers in that paragraph, but none that add up to a safer food supply.

Let's hope real numbers change in Washington, where a new Congress is looking hard at the FDA and its budget and priorities.