The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring that the products our country consumes are safe and reliable. In this case, "product" spans a wide range of subjects - food, medical devices, drugs and cosmetics to start - and it's not as simple as it sounds. The FDA stays busy finding more effective, safer and cheaper ways to improve the health of the public, approving or rejecting products based on their potential risks and benefits. If the FDA rejects an item, the distribution and consumption of that item is limited in some way, either by an outright ban or by controlled distribution and marketing.
Public safety goes hand in hand with public knowledge. It is important not only that people consume appropriate products, but that they also are aware of what the product entails. The FDA regulates product labels to make sure that people are conscious of the ingredients and possible dangers that come with each one.
Controversies have risen lately around the issue of labeling meat with its country of origin. Under the 2002 Farm Bill, retailers must provide this labeling, but in 2007, Congress was still debating. Critics say that mandatory country of origin labeling will give U.S. products an advantage over foreign ones, raising demand and prices for domestic meats. On the other hand, proponents argue that the public has a right to know where their food came from.
In some cases, foods and products already on the market can be deemed harmful or unhealthy (and possibly life-threatening), causing the recall of those items. The FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture share the responsibility of food safety; the FDA controls food and animal feed, while the FSIS manages meat, poultry products and eggs. While the agencies can request a recall or request that dangerous ingredients be removed from a product, they generally cannot "order" a recall. Most recalls are carried out voluntarily by the manufacturers of the products themselves, after information is revealed that the product is harmful. If the manufacturers refuse to recall the product, the agencies can then take legal action, including seizure of the product, injunction of the firm or a court request for the recall.
In 2007, some notable recalls included bagged spinach from Metz Fresh and canned meat from Castleberry's Food Company. The spinach tested positive for salmonella (although there have been no reports of related illness), and the meat contained a germ that causes botulism, a serious disease that can cause paralysis and even death. There have also been several incidences of recalled dog food.
To find out more about regulation, recall and labeling of food and other products, visit the sites below.
This site is a source for recalls of all products. For something more specific, click on the subjects at the top of the page.
Learn about the recall process and find out which products have been recalled.
The FDA has a list of recent recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts.