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Food safety

Food supply continues to sicken millions as federal regulators fail to conduct proper inspections

Wednesday, July 03, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: food safety, inspections, illness

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(NaturalNews) Based on the types of stories we routinely cover here at Natural News concerning the aggressive nature of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) against raw milk farmers and backyard gardeners, it may seem as though this federal agency keeps a very close eye on every aspect of the American food system. But this could not be further from the truth, as the FDA inspects only a very small percentage of the overall food supply, leaving the rest up to chance when it comes to food safety.

An in-depth report recently published by Bloomberg explains that the vast majority of large agriculture and food production companies are essentially self-regulated and self-inspected, which means the FDA keeps no tabs on whether or not such companies are producing and distributing safe food. And thanks to the 2010 passage of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the situation has only gotten worse, as food companies are now encouraged to hire their own "third-party" inspection services that end up acting as rubber stamps in basically declaring, rather than proving, food to be safe.

"During the past two decades, the food industry has taken over much of the FDA's role in ensuring that what Americans eat is safe," says the Bloomberg report. "The food industry hires for-profit inspection companies -- known as third-party auditors -- who aren't required by law to meet any federal standards and have no government supervision. Some of these monitors choose to follow guidelines from trade groups that include ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG), Kraft Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart."

Cantaloupe listeria outbreak a direct result of FDA inspection failures

The 2011 outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in conjunction with Colorado cantaloupes, for instance, which was declared to be the most deadly food-borne illness outbreak in the U.S. in nearly a century, was the result of Granada-based Jensen Farms basically inspecting itself. The company apparently hired a for-profit inspection company to conduct a safety inspection months before the deadly outbreak that killed at least 33 people, and that inspection resulted in a "top safety" rating.

Many of the so-called third-party auditors that conduct these types of private inspections also have direct ties to the companies they are inspecting, which is an obvious conflict of interest. But because the FDA is unable, or unwilling, to conduct its own inspections -- the FDA reportedly never conducted a single inspection of Jensen Farms -- and because the law allows for food companies to inspect themselves, the entire inspection process has become nothing more than a useless formality.

"The outbreaks we're seeing are endless," says Dough Powell, lead author of a study on third-party auditors called Audits and Inspections Are Never Enough. "You need to be in a culture that takes food safety seriously. Right now, what we have is hidden. The third-party auditor stickers and certificates are meaningless."

Private, third-party inspection schemes would not necessarily be problematic if it were not for the revolving door of food inspectors also holding executive positions at the food companies they regularly inspect. In an ideal world, the FDA would also be an objective, uncorrupted inspection agency with enough manpower to properly inspect all food companies on a regular basis. Since both systems are flawed, it truly is a guessing game when it comes to eating factory foods and produce.

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