The Washington Post reports that the United States is maintaining or even losing ground in the fight against food-borne illnesses. Recent peanut and pistachio recalls highlighted something that consumer advocates have been saying for years: The government’s watchdogs are becoming both toothless and fewer in number.

Here’s the heart of the matter:

“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has been collecting data since 1996 from 10 states on the people with infections caused by eight bacteria and two parasites found in food. The study, reported in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that the rate of infection for several bacteria had been dropping until about 2004, when the numbers began rising again or leveled off. They include salmonella, vibrio, E. coli 0157, listeria and campylobacter.”

Here’s another fun paragraph:

“As fresh produce increasingly became a new source of food-borne illnesses, the FDA provided little or no oversight, the GAO [Government Accountability Office] found in a report last year. The agency inspected less than 1 percent of the fresh produce imported between 2002 and 2007, it had no formal program devoted to fresh produce, and it had conducted no scientific work to understand contaminants such as E. coli 0157 because it did not have research money, the GAO found.”

Reform bills are now pending in Congress, and there are several ongoing high-profile campaigns urging changes at the FDA.

See more articles