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FDA is Understaffed, Underfunded, and Can’t Handle Food Inspections

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This week, Dr. Steven Nissen, the current chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic who may soon become head of the Food and Drug Administration under President Obama, said that the FDA is not equipped to handle the increasingly complex processes of inspected the United States food supply.

According to Nissen, the enormous tasks involved in approving medications and medical devices have swamped the FDA to the point where it’s lost control of the food situation.

"The truth be told, the FDA is a failed agency . . . the main problem is that it is terribly underfunded," Nissen said. "It needs to do more inspections, especially of foods brought in internationally. We are all very vulnerable. This has to be fixed and fixed quickly."

Nissen is no stranger to speaking out against the FDA and has garnered the spotlight for occasionally taking the agency to task, even while serving as a committee member on high-profile FDA drug panels.

He is widely known as a physician-activist and doesn’t mind taking heat from drug companies when he finds deadly flaws in their products. –Delthia Ricks, CNN

As more and more food is being imported to the United States, more inspections are needed to ensure that products like the recent melamine-tainted milk and infant formula from China don’t make it onto American store shelves. At this time, much of the food brought in from abroad isn’t FDA-inspected at all.

Nissen, a long-time proponent of drug safety, voiced early objections to the Merck drug Vioxx, arguing (quite correctly, as it turned out) that the drug caused heart attacks. Accordingly, Vioxx was taken off the market in 2002. In 2007, his warnings that the diabetes drug Avandia could also cause heart attacks led the FDA to give the drug the black box warning label it carries today.