FDA is Vigorous at Inspection

  A Senate bill that would expand U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight and give it the power to recall food is a step forward but it needs to be stronger, the head of the agency told lawmakers on Thursday.

  Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said the legislation does not include several crucial measures, including giving FDA better access to company food records during routine inspections, flexibility to target inspections at areas of greatest risk and enough money to do the job.

  "The legislation is a major step in the right direction," Hamburg told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

  The U.S. food supply has been battered by a series of high-profile outbreaks involving lettuce, peppers, peanuts and spinach since 2006. Consumer groups, lawmakers and the Obama administration have proposed ways to overhaul the antiquated food safety system and reform the FDA.

   The Senate bill is similar to legislation that passed the House of Representatives in July, which gave FDA mandatory recall authority, increased the frequency of food inspections and required all facilities to have a food safety plan in place. The FDA now can only recommend food recalls in most cases.

  The FDA, which oversees the bulk of the U.S. food supply, has pressed Congress for more funding and authority. The last major overhaul of the country's food safety system was undertaken close to 50 years.

  Over 75 million American citizens get sick every year with foodborne illness and 5,000 die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
   Reuters India has contributed to the report.

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