GAO: FDA can do more to reach food safety, nutrition goals

by Erica Shaffer
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The agency lacks clear performance measures, time frames for implementing its objectives, according to a GAO review.
WASHINGTON – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making headway toward reaching its food safety and nutrition program objectives, but more can be done to ensure FDA’s objectives are met, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found after a review of the FDA’s food safety- and nutrition-related activities and resources.

Specifically, the agency’s Food Safety and Veterinary Medicine (FVM) Program has eight strategic objectives that support the program’s goals of ensuring that American consumers are protected from foreseeable hazards and fostering an environment that helps consumers make healthy and safe food choices. The GAO said “…FDA has set goals for its food safety- and nutrition-related activities but has not fully developed the necessary framework to assess progress toward those goals.”

FDA has dedicated at least $1 billion annually to food safety and nutrition activities in fiscal years 2011 through 2016, according to the GAO review. The agency dedicated roughly 98 percent of those resources to food safety each fiscal year, and about 2 percent were dedicated to nutrition.

For fiscal year 2018, FDA identified activities related to food safety and nutrition that the agency plans to undertake, but FDA’s time frames for these activities in the long term are unclear. For example, FDA officials plan to pursue the food safety and nutrition strategies identified in the FVM Program’s 10-year strategic plan. But FDA has not developed a plan for “…actions, priorities, and milestones to implement the strategic plan.”

The GAO said that, until an implementation plan is completed, FDA will be challenged to ensure it is prioritizing and sequencing the necessary actions to achieve the FVM Program objectives.

GAO is making three recommendations, including that FDA (1) develop performance measures with associated targets and time frames for all eight of its food safety- and nutrition-related objectives and (2) complete a plan that includes specific actions, priorities, and milestones for implementing the FVM Program's strategic plan. The agency agreed with GAO's recommendations and identified actions to implement them.

In response to the report, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said “I’m pleased to report that the GAO’s review overall found that the FDA continues to make significant progress in implementing new and enhanced programs aimed at protecting our food supply and promoting healthier food choices. At the FDA, we're taking additional steps toward these efforts.”

Gottlieb said he committed the FDA to review its recall processes and announced a new draft guidance for the food industry and FDA staff related to issuing public warnings regarding FDA-regulated products.

“The FDA will also continue to pursue various ways to streamline our policies, make them more efficient, and increase transparency to consumers and others,” Gottlieb added.

In its report, the GAO recommended that FDA:

develop performance measures with associated targets and time frames for all eight of its food safety and nutrition-related objectives; and

complete a plan that includes specific actions, priorities, and milestones for implementing the FVM Program’s strategic plan.

Gottlieb wants FDA to ensure accurate measures of the agency’s progress and that the results are reported to the public.

“As part of these efforts, the FDA has undertaken a concerted effort to modernize our food safety metrics in conjunction with our efforts to modernize the food safety regulatory structure,” he said. “We plan to use this work to update our current performance measures and put in place outcome-based performance measures that can more accurately reflect the public health impact of the agency’s actions.

As for nutrition programs, FDA continues to foster an environment to promote healthy food choices through implementation of the initiatives like the new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods.

“Last week, we issued several key guidances to help food manufacturers make the required changes to their nutrition labels by the upcoming compliance dates,” Gottlieb said. “I also announced our intent to launch a major educational campaign for consumers surrounding the new label. Soon, I’ll provide more details on a nutrition strategy to reduce preventable death and disease through better nutrition.”

Read the full report.

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