Peanut butter recall 2011 highlights danger of cutting funding

Skippy Peanut Butter

Skippy Peanut Butter has been recalled because of salmonella risk. Image: Flickr / consumerist / CC-BY

Every month, the Food and Drug administration heads up hundreds of small recalls. Many recalls go unnoticed, but the most recent peanut butter recall — 2011’s Skippy recall — is calling attention to another problem with the federal budget. Despite many safety recalls, the FDA and USDA are facing serious funding cuts.

First peanut butter recall for 2011

In a move expected to cost about $50 million or more, Skippy has recalled peanut butter in 16 states. The Skippy Reduced Fat Creamy Peanut Butter Spread and Skippy Reduced Fat Super Chunk Peanut Butter Spread have both been possibly contaminated with salmonella bacteria. The 16.3-ounce plastic jars with UPC numbers 048001006812 and 048001006782 are included in the recall. The FDA is working in cooperation with Unilever, the company that manufactures Skippy, to pull the possibly tainted product off the shelves.

Finding funding for food safety

In a new bill signed into law last year, the Food and Drug administration got an update. Rather than requiring the agency to work with companies offering tainted products, the FDA will soon have the right to require a recall. The FDA’s budget also included funding to hire new inspectors and generally keep a closer eye on food safety. The funding for these changes, however, appears to be at risk. Part of the funding is appearing from cuts to the USDA, which is responsible for the safety of the meat supply. Congress is also calling for additional cuts to the budget of the FDA, which may leave new food safety initiatives un-enforceable. With more than 3,000 deaths each year attributed to tainted food, the consequences of the lack of funding are immediate and serious.

The essential problem with food safety

Funding the food safety system in the United States is a difficult regulatory challenge. The FDA is responsible for both food and drug safety in the United States, both of which are huge challenges with thousands of moving parts. Food safety is also, alternately, handled by the United States Department of Agriculture or 14 other federal agencies. State and local governments take on another level of oversight. Though heavier regulations and more funding could improve food safety, heavier regulation comes with its own challenges. Small farms, farmer’s markets, and other local food producers have already expressed concern that increased regulation costs them a significant percentage of their sales. Each food-safety recall pulls millions of dollars out of the safety budget and the economy in general, but reforming the system will take political, social and economic changes that could prove overwhelming.


Food Safety News
Government Accountability Office (PDF)

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