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Self-policing of food firms fails, says lawmaker

WASHINGTON — Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, says she will introduce a bill as soon as January to create an agency with the sole mission of protecting food safety and will press for more funding to prevent foodborne illnesses.

It is unacceptable for Americans to rely on private inspectors who have ties to food companies and award positive ratings to producers whose farms and factories are tainted with bacteria, DeLauro says.

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The food industry has taken over much of the monitoring role of the Food and Drug Administration in the past two ­decades, Bloomberg Markets magazine reported in its ­November issue. Inspectors, paid by food companies, have awarded safety approval to food that has sickened and killed thousands of people.

‘‘We have to go after this third-party inspection system,’’ says DeLauro, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds the FDA. ‘‘This is a real opening. This is a ­moment where you can have an impact.’’

At the same time, the FDA, which has the resources to ­inspect less than 5 percent of all food in the United States, is launching an investigation of two farms in Mexico, says ­Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. Bloomberg Markets found unsanitary conditions at those growers, including workers defecating in the field and wiping their hands on their pants.

The FDA will also step up inspec­tions at the Mexican border to find potentially contaminated produce, Taylor says.

Overall, 48 million Americans fall ill each year from unsafe food; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

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