We should be able to trust the Food and Drug Administration to protect us against foods that might not be safe for our consumption, right? I never would have questioned this before, but after Del Monte Fresh Produce recently filed a lawsuit that could have long-term consequences against the regulatory organization, I am starting to have my doubts.
Let me explain: The FDA recently forced Del Monte to halt the importation of its Guatemalan cantaloupes because there was a possibility that the fruits could have been contaminated with salmonella. Then, Del Monte fired back against the FDA with a lawsuit. This all seems like standard operations, but the problem is that in the future, it is possible that the FDA will become more reluctant to issue warnings against possibly-contaminated foods for fear of being taken to court.
“If this case is successful from an industry perspective, it will change the attitude of regulators,” said David Acheson, the former FDA Assistant Commissioner. “They will obviously be more reluctant.”
If this is the case, it could have serious consequences for the health of the general public.
“More often than not the public health authorities and the epidemiologist are correct,” said Michael Doyle, the director for the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “If you start putting public health officials in the cross hairs of the lawyers it’s probably going to have a major dampening effect on whether foods are recalled in time to prevent a substantial amount of illnesses.”
In March 2011, Del Monte issued a voluntary recall of the questionable cantaloupes after it was determined that the fruits were linked to 12 cases of salmonella poisoning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. Then, in July 2011, the FDA issued an import alert, which stopped the importation of these fruits. Del Monte is filing their lawsuit because they claim that the FDA issued the alert based on “erroneous speculative assumption, unsupported by evidence.”
In my opinion, the FDA is here to serve the general public and should be able to issue any alerts or recalls for foods that are determined to be unsafe for human consumption. However, if Del Monte is correct and the FDA issued its alert without proper information, then I think the company should be able to file a lawsuit to protect their image.
“That is the difficulty FDA is dealing with – when do you warn, when do you not warn, when do you urge a recall,” said Fred Degnan, a lawyer who specializes in food law in private practice. “This is a brave new world for FDA and for industry.”
Currently, only time will tell what this lawsuit will mean for the future of the FDA and their regulation policies. Keep checking back at DietsinReview and we will keep you posted as this court case progresses.
September 1st, 2011