Obama issues tougher food safety measures

March 15th, 2009 - 1:03 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 14 (Xinhua) US President Barack Obama Saturday issued new measures to strengthen food safety control as he named new officials to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In his weekly radio speech, the president announced the appointments of Margaret Hamburg as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Joshua Sharfstein as the principal deputy commissioner, as well as the creation of a new Food Safety Working Group.

According to the White House, the working group, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, will coordinate with other agencies and senior officials to advise the president on improving coordination throughout the government, examining and upgrading food safety laws, and enforcing laws that will keep the American people safe.

Obama noted a number of problems that have been found in recent years with food, including contaminated spinach in 2006 and salmonella in peppers and possibly tomatoes in 2008 as well as bad peanut products this year that have left nine killed and hundreds of others sick.

“Worse, these incidents reflect a troubling trend that’s seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year - up from 100 a year in the early 1990s,” he said.

He attributed incidents to out-of-date laws and regulations governing food safety in America that were written during former president Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, and inefficient system of inspection and enforcement that are difficult for different parts of government to share information, work together, and solve problems.

“It’s also because the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year,” he said. “That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable.”

Obama also announced that the Department of Agriculture will close a loophole to prevent diseased cows from entering the food supply.

The government will also invest in the FDA to substantially increase the number of food inspectors and modernize food safety labs, he added.

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