Survey: Political and corporate influence threatens public health

A significant percentage of employees from the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department surveyed on food safety said political and corporate influence is threatening public health, according to poll results released on Monday.

Out of 1,710 respondents, 27 percent reported personally experiencing either frequently or occasionally "instances where public health has been harmed by businesses withholding food safety information from agency investigators," while 22 percent seldom reported such experiences. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they had personally experienced either frequently or occasionally "situations where corporate interests have forced the withdrawal or significant modification of an agency policy or action designed to protect consumers or public health," while 23 percent seldom reported such instances.


The Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading science-based nonprofit group, conducted the poll, releasing the results just weeks after a nationwide scare over the outbreak of 1,400 cases of salmonella and the recall of nearly 500 million eggs in August. The group sent the survey to more than 8,000 employees at FDA and USDA in March; among those who responded, 61 percent identified themselves as food safety inspectors.

"We have evidence that special interest pressure remains strong," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the Scientific Integrity Program, during a conference call on Monday morning.

According to the survey, 31 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the presence of top agency leaders who came from the food industry inappropriately influenced food safety decision-making. Employees also reported interference from leadership within their agencies. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they received requests at least once from agency decision-makers to "inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or conclusions in an agency scientific document."

An overwhelming majority of employees at both agencies -- 70 percent -- agreed that whistleblower protections for public and private inspectors would improve food safety overall.

"Our clients make food integrity disclosures at great peril to their personal and professional lives," said Amanda Hitt, director for the Food Integrity Campaign at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Dean Wyatt, a public health veterinarian for the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, Hitt said Wyatt experienced "obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power" from upper level management within his department. Wyatt claimed he witnessed animal rights abuses and threats to public safety on more than one occasion, but his reports were ignored. He alleged he was penalized for his actions, including being transferred from his job at an Oklahoma slaughterhouse to a packing plant in Vermont.

Respondents also overwhelmingly supported reforms, including the consolidation of "all government food safety activities into a new Food Safety Administration," increased food safety inspections, and regulations "requiring each food production facility to conduct a science-based hazard analysis and implement preventive controls."

On a positive note, according to Grifo's interpretation of survey results, employees at FDA and USDA are more hopeful than they were five years ago about future food safety reform. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would include granting FDA the authority to recall contaminated foods. Currently the FDA only can request a recall, which is ultimately the manufacturer's decision.

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  • You are very welcome and a great website is by the Health Ranger. Great current information about organic food and such :-)
    I am in the USA
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