Government food safety officials say when companies influence their work, public health suffers, according to a new survey.
Of employees polled from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, 38%, or 620 respondents, said the health of the public was affected by the practices of corporate-influenced agencies, the survey found. by the non-profit Union of concerned scientists.
And 27% of respondents to another question said they had witnessed events in which public health was affected by companies withholding information from agency investigators.
Ten percent of respondents said their boss asked them to exclude or change information and conclusions in a scientific paper, and 9% said managers asked them to provide misleading or inaccurate information to the public, media and government, the researchers said.
Recent recalls of everyday foods, such as eggs and pet food, have highlighted the problems, said Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. If nothing changes, there will only be more public health risks and food recalls in the future, she added.
This is “an issue that matters to all of us … because the most vulnerable are the most seriously affected people,” she said Grifo. “From eggs to spinach to ground beef, [food poisoning is] a disease that we recover from, at best, but with some drawbacks.”
Last month, 380 million eggs were recalled from two Iowa farms after being linked to 1,400 cases of salmonella poisoning. And last year, a salmonella outbreak in peanut butter from contaminated plants from Peanut Corp. of America sickened 700 people and led to nine deaths. In 2007, salmonella was linked to ConAgra Foods pot pies, which sickened 475 people.
The 44-question anonymous survey was distributed to more than 8,000 scientists and food safety inspectors, and about 1,700 responded. More than half had been with his agency for more than 10 years, according to researchers at the Iowa State University Center for Survey Statistics, who conducted the survey on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The majority of respondents said that safety would be improved in food factories if hazard analyzes were conducted, if an electronic monitoring system was implemented, and if the FDA increased the frequency of food safety inspections.
The Senate is currently considering a food safety bill sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill). The bill would allow the FDA to search for pathogens and detect outbreaks, as well as give the administration the power to recall contaminated food products and impose fines on companies who knowingly sell them. The FDA cannot now ask companies to issue recalls.