Consumers Union Calls for Annual Inspection of Food Plants in Wake of Peanut Butter Recalls

For Immediate Release

Consumers Union
Contact: 

Naomi Starkman, Consumers Union, 917. 539.3924, nstarkman@gmail.com
Jean Halloran, Consumers Union, 914.378.2457, hallje@consumer.org

Consumers Union Calls for Annual Inspection of Food Plants in Wake of Peanut Butter Recalls

Says Obama Call for FDA Review "Good News" for Consumers

YONKERS, NY - President Obama's call today for a top-to-bottom review
of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is good news for consumers,
according to Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer
Reports magazine. CU said the recall of two years' worth of
production from a peanut butter factory in Georgia underlines critical
weaknesses in the FDA's inspection and enforcement capacity. CU
called on Congress to require FDA to inspect such factories annually.

"The FDA is supposed to be a watchdog for consumers, and for too long,
this agency has been coming up short," said Jean Halloran, Director of
Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union. "The FDA has been so
severely weakened by cutbacks in staffing and funding, and is so
poorly equipped to deal with today's food industry, with its mass
production and distribution systems and global sourcing of
ingredients, that it can no longer keep food safe. The first step in
overhauling the FDA should be requiring that processing plants are
inspected every year," said Halloran.

"President Obama's review and his appointment of a new FDA
Commissioner will definitely improve FDA's use of its existing
resources and authority. However, Congress must also act soon to
modernize the agency and give it the additional resources and
authority it desperately needs," Halloran said.

"FDA was almost completely unaware of the problems at Peanut
Corporation of America (PCA), despite the fact that problems had
existed for some time, and that salmonella contaminated peanut butter
at another Georgia factory just two years ago," Halloran added.
"Unfortunately, this is not surprising. FDA inspects U.S. food
production facilities only about once every ten years on average."

A recent Consumers Union poll found that two-thirds of Americans want
the FDA to inspect domestic and foreign food-processing facilities at
least once a month.

FDA last visited PCA's plant in 2001, at which time PCA was only
roasting peanuts. FDA admitted on January 30 that it did not even
know the plant had started making peanut butter until 2008, when some
of its output was turned back at the Canadian border because it
contained metal fragments. As a result, FDA failed to inspect the PCA
plant until January 2009, even though it had inspected other producers
in the wake of the 2007 Georgia ConAgra salmonella peanut butter
disease outbreak.

"Oversight of PCA was contracted out to the Georgia Department of
Agriculture, which conducted a number of inspections. But there is
little evidence that FDA was aware of repeated findings of unsanitary
conditions at the plant," Halloran stated.

CU said more basic reform will require Congressional action.
"Congress should require FDA to inspect every food producer in the
United States at least once a year, and provide funding through
registration fees for this work," said Halloran. "Congress must give
FDA mandatory recall authority, and require companies to disclose the
retail stores, schools and nursing homes that get recalled products.
And if a company finds an adulterant like salmonella in its own
testing, Congress should require that it inform FDA and explain how it
disposed of the product," Halloran added.

Prompted by the 8 deaths and more than 500 illnesses attributed to
salmonella in peanut butter produced by PCA, and by the fact that the
company apparently shipped product that it knew to be contaminated,
Congress has begun considering FDA reform legislation.
Representatives John Dingell, Bart Stupak, and Frank Pallone
introduced a bill on January 28, and Representative Rosa DeLauro is
expected to introduce another bill this week. Senator Durbin is also
developing a bill expected to be introduced soon.

CU advises consumers not to eat products containing peanut ingredients
like crackers or cookies, unless consumers check with the manufacturer
and make sure that none of it comes from PCA.

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