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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs more authority to oversee imported foods, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was quoted as saying in a report by FoodProductionDaily.com.

There are about 189,000 registered foreign sites where food is made for sale in the United States but the FDA inspected just 153 in 2008. Last year, it estimated that it would inspect 200 sites, and 600 in 2010, the report adds.

Food imported into the US has also been on the rise and now accounts for 15% of the total food supply, including 60% of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80% of seafood.

The report says that the FDA currently lacks mandatory recall authority for companies that do not voluntarily recall food products identified as unsafe. Limitations in FDA’s food recall authorities heighten the risk that unsafe food will remain in the food supply.

The FDA has opened offices in India, China and Costa Rica and plans to open offices in Mexico and Chile, but the agency currently examines less than 1% of imported food.

The findings of the GAO report were presented at a House Committee hearing on Thursday, along with the findings of a previous study released in September last year in which the GAO said the FDA and US Department of Agriculture should work together to close gaps in the food safety network.

Food safety legislation – the Food Safety Modernization Act – that would give the FDA more resources and authority to deal with the safety of imported food, including the power to order recalls, is currently awaiting a full hearing by the Senate after passing unanimously through Committee in November. A companion bill passed the House in July.

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