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Effective and efficient solutions to the numerous public health threats posed by an ever-changing food supply can be achieved mainly through the development and application of sound scientific principles. Building and strengthening FDA's science base is a major priority. The impact of science on food safety policy in the past has been substantial and is illustrated in four main areas:

  • Science has enabled the identification of recent technologies to detect new and changing public health hazards in food and FDA has instituted an expedited review process for these new technologies. For example, advances in food virological techniques are improving our ability to detect and combat the presence of food-borne viruses, such as the hepatitis A virus.

  • Science has enabled the creation of more effective and efficient approaches to solving public health problems. For example, researchers have devised multiple means for improving the safety of sprouts including the evaluation of a wide range of potential agents as a means of decontaminating both seeds and finished sprouts. FDA developed, in just one year, Good Agricultural Practices for fresh fruits and vegetables. These guidelines are being applied both domestically and overseas. In addition, FDA developed a new approach for enhancing the safety of food imports, placing increased emphasis on evaluating underlying conditions in foreign countries. FDA is also working with the U.S. Customs Service to strengthen protection at the border to block importation of unsafe food.

  • Science has enabled the evolution of regulatory approaches to reflect the current state of knowledge. For example, FDA was the first federal agency to issue science-based mandatory Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations, in this case, for seafood. In addition, FDA has proposed to expand HACCP to fruit and vegetable juices and these regulations would include a mandatory performance standard. FDA issued final regulations for warning labels for unpasteurized juices, in time for the 1998 apple cider season. In the summer of 1999, FDA proposed new regulations to enhance the safety of shell eggs, while also announcing the joint development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture of a farm-to-table strategic plan for egg safety.

  • Science has enabled the development of new ways to measure the public health impact of prevention and control efforts. For example, FDA recently completed a consumer study to identify food safety practices that consumers are employing and where trends exist.

These types of impacts are the reason risk assessment is leading the Department's food safety regulations in creating solutions and the reason the DHHS and its Public Health Service (PHS) are organized in a manner that clearly links science to the goal of reducing food-borne illness. The PHS bases its public health policy on the best science available.

Good science is critical to regulatory decision-making and FDA cannot solve this problem on its own. In order to achieve high standards of food safety based in sound science—a public health goal shared by FDA and other government agencies—public and private partnerships must be formed in addition to improving communication and coordination among federal and state agencies. It is only by enhancing the science underpinning decision-making that consumers will receive the level of public health protection that they expect and deserve.

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