FDA has been caught with its head in the proverbial sand again, sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy for food safety. Venue shopping, in other words.
A congressional committee is investigating whether some private U.S. laboratories were instructed to withhold samples of tainted food so that importers could get their goods into the United States.
In a May 1 letter to 10 labs, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce suggests they may have been encouraged by importing companies to discard test results that had failed Food and Drug Administration standards.
“We’re gathering information from both the FDA and private industry about the labs almost being complicit in helping importers game the system,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee that is investigating the labs and food companies. “Someone told us you pay for the result you want to get from the labs.”
The committee’s letter reiterates Stupak’s suspicion that testing on some samples was conducted repeatedly until the food passed.
In other instances, the letter says, importers whose food failed tests at one laboratory would hire a different lab to continue testing until they got a positive result. “This repeated testing is done without alerting FDA that potentially dangerous food has been imported into this country — a practice which we find deplorable,” the letter states.
The committee asked 50 multinational food companies for a wide range of recall- and food-import records dating to 2000. A May 8 letter from the committee to the companies asks about instances when food was found to be contaminated with chemicals or bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella or listeria. “We wish to assess the extent of microbiological and/or chemical contamination occurring during the processing of food and the extent to which controls have failed to prevent or eliminate contamination in food,” the committee wrote.
Three Chicago-area corporations— Kraft Foods Inc., Sara Lee Corp. and the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.—are included in the second request.
Sounds like a pretty big loophole to me: too bad the FDA’s mandate is to protect the business interests of food manufacturers, and not consumers, or else the FDA would run its own laboratories, conducting its own tests. Privatization is usually not the best solution to address public health concerns.
Last autumn the FDA issued an alert on five types of Chinese seafood: eel, shrimp, catfish, basa and dace. The warning was recognition of the fast-growing Asian aquaculture industry and its frequent use of antibiotics banned in the United States.
To import those seafoods, companies affected by the alert must prove that their products don’t contain banned substances. Conducting tests to prove it is one of the jobs the private labs perform.
So far, just 2 of the 10 labs targeted by the House committee have complied with the records request, according to committee staffers. Amir Jalaeikhoo, president of one lab that did comply, Imperial Private Laboratories Inc. of Miami, said that his firm reports negative test results to the FDA. Imperial mostly tests for pesticides in produce imported from Central and South America, Jalaeikhoo said. “Sometimes we lose clients because our standard operating procedure is that basically if something is … in violation, we submit it,” he said. “Some importers don’t like that policy.”
The nation can’t afford to ensure the quality of its citizen’s food – there are wars in the desert to fund!