One thing that has come out of the widespread egg salmonella outbreak of the last two weeks is a resurgent call for the FDA to be given better tools to protect the public from unsafe food and drugs. Batches of eggs contaminated with salmonella have sickened hundreds of Americans, leading two Iowa egg producers to recall more than a half-billion eggs from store shelves. This week, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asked Congress once again to give her agency the authority to recall unsafe or contaminated foods. The agency has asked for similar authority for drugs in the past.

Congress is close, sort of. In July 2009, the House passed a comprehensive food safety bill giving the agency recall authority and better inspection resources. Though a Senate committee passed similar legislation, it never reached the floor. The egg crisis could and should change that.

The FDA should also be able to recall drugs that have been adulterated or found unsafe, rather than relying on a company to issue a recall, as it must do now.  The Drug Safety and Accountability Act of 2010, introduced earlier this summer by Sen. Michael Bennet, would give the agency that authority. In July, Rep. Edolphus Towns introduced a bill to give the FDA recall authority for drugs, spurred on by his committee’s investigation into the J&J recalls earlier this year.  And Rep. John Dingell has said recall authority is a critical element of any FDA reforms. The ability to protect Americans by coordinating recalls of unsafe food and drugs is an important tool the FDA should already have. Congress should grant it to them now, and not wait for another food or drug safety crisis to hit the headlines.

–Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger