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Although a criminal investigation has begun regarding whether or not the Peanut Corporation of America deliberately sold contaminated products, the federal government still needed the company’s permission prior to announcing a huge recall of its products. Current rules require the wording of the recall statement to be approved by the corporation before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can publish it. Presently, the FDA relies on cooperation from food manufacturers even if they are undergoing criminal investigation. Some Democrats in Congress, however, are trying to get this changed by giving the agency more power to declare mandatory recalls without companies’ consent. Legislation is in the works that will split the agency’s food oversight into a separate entity, which will have mandatory recall authority and other powers.

President Obama has also promised to completely review FDA operations because he does not believe the agency has caught problems as quickly as they should. Obama will soon announce a new FDA commissioner and other officials who will institute a “stricter regulatory structure” in order to prevent failure in food-safety inspections. Part of this review will determine whether the requirement for the peanut company’s approval caused delays in warning the American public, which created safety hazards.

Public health officials pinpointed the contamination as originating from the Blakely plant January 9. The peanut company announced a limited recall on January 13 and expanded it on January 16. However, the company waited until January 28 to recall all of its products made in 2007 and 2008 even though it had known since 2007 that tests of products showed traces of salmonella. The dangers were well known to health officials, but nothing could be done about removing the products until the Peanut Corporation of America decided on the recall. More than five hundred people have become sick after the salmonella poisoning outbreak and eight have died. More than 340 peanut product brands have been recalled.

The fact that the FDA cannot compel a recall under these circumstances is astounding. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed. Let’s hope that the new Congress and President will give the FDA some teeth in these types of life and death situations.

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