FDA Is Broken, Endangers American Lives

A new report says the FDA is understaffed and underfunded.

ByABC News
February 6, 2009, 8:35 PM

Dec. 3, 2007— -- The report is scathing. An expert panel has told the Food and Drug Administration that the organization is so understaffed and underfunded, it puts American lives at risk.

Gail Cassel, co-author of a 56-page report titled "FDA Science and Mission at Risk," said, "The wheels are coming off. In fact, I would say they're off. They're already off."

The report uncovered failures at every turn. The most glaring is that the FDA lost 600 inspectors in the past four years, making the agency unable to protect the country's food supply. And the FDA's responsibilities have grown, rendering the agency ineffecitve.

Bill Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner, said, "When I came to the FDA in the early 1970s, we were doing 35,000 food inspections a year. This year, the agency will be doing 6,000."

"Crisis management in FDA's two food safety centers ... has drawn attention and resources away from FDA's ability to develop the science base and infrastructure needed to efficiently support innovation in the food industry," the report said.

The pet food industry, with $20 billion a year in sales, is regulated by only two people at the agency.

The report found the agency's computer system, which tracks hazardous foods and drugs, is so antiquated, it's constantly breaking down.

"Imagine having an e-mail system so old, they have to bring technicians out of retirement because current technicians have never seen equipment that old," said Hubbard.

Many front-line employees don't even have a computer. Inspectors must write urgent reports by hand, which often end up lost in huge warehouses.

The report does not blame the FDA but rather Congress, for continually cutting the agency's budget while asking it to assume more and more responsibility.

Overall, the FDA staff has shrunk 14 percent over the last 14 years.

A leading FDA critic in Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said, "The essence is, send me a plan, ask for money, and we'll consider it. But they never ask for more money or authority."

While the squabbling in Washington continues, the agency charged with protecting our food and drug supplies is, tonight, according to the report, so broken, it cannot do the job.

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.