FDA official: GOP amendment could gut preventative food-safety effort

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He gave the example of efforts to prevent contaminated irrigation water that is known to be a hazard even though regulators lack data on how each individual type of produce can affect the public health.

Taylor made the comments as part of a Food Policy Lecture Series at the public relations firm Ogilvy. He said current staffing and funding levels were insufficient to meet the deadlines in the new law.

"There's no way we can build a new system of food safety protection without making investments," Taylor said. "We've got to invest in the science to keep up with that dynamic, changing food system."

He mentioned the cost of investing in food-safety science; retraining federal investigators to inspect systems and controls; providing technical assistance and guidance to industry; leveraging state resources; and meeting the law's foreign inspection mandate.

Taylor also said the new law could "significantly reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks" such as the E. coli scare in Europe. Still, he warned, the public should avoid panic on the occasions it becomes clear that "we're not going to get to a sterile food supply that doesn't occasionally cause problems."

"It's inevitable that we will have future outbreaks, some of which will be significant, in this country," Taylor said. "There's a lot going on to improve the system, but there will be outbreaks. And I think that the public has to be realistic about that expectation."

He said the new law is focused on four major ideas: prevention-oriented standards; high rates of compliance and industry responsibility; global collaboration and import controls; and partnerships between federal and state agencies, the food industry and foreign governments.

Taylor ended his prepared remarks with a plea for public involvement.

"We need input from the community," he said, "to get this law done right."

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