- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Food safety beefed up

President Obama has called the increasing number of incidents of contaminated food in the country a serious and unacceptable public health hazard and has vowed to strengthen food safety laws and beef up inspection efforts.

In his weekly radio Saturday, the president said a “billion-dollar effort” has been launched to improve Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratories and to hire more food inspectors.

A lack of adequate funding has resulted in the agency’s only having enough inspectors to visit 7,000 of the nation’s 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year, Mr. Obama said.

“Protecting the safety of our food and drugs is one of the most fundamental responsibilities government has,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s a responsibility that I intend to uphold in the months and years to come.”

The average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods has increased to almost 350 a year — up from 100 a year in the early 1990s, the administration says.

Mr. Obama also used the radio address to announce that he was appointing former New York City Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg as FDA commissioner and Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as her deputy.

Ms. Hamburg formerly served as the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Health and Human Services Department, and the assistant director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

Cost of unhealthy babies

A new report commissioned by the March of Dimes shows that medical costs to businesses for the care of one premature baby for a year could cover the costs for almost a dozen healthy, full-term infants.

The study, to be released Tuesday, finds that average medical cost for healthy full-term babies from birth through their first birthday was $4,551 in 2007, of which more than $3,000 was paid for by health insurance. For premature or low-birth-weight babies, the average cost was almost $50,000, with insurance paying more than $46,000.

Preventing premature birth is a significant way to rein in skyrocketing health care costs and help business survive, said March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse.

And “the best prevention of prematurely is good maternity care,” she said.

The analyses also found that premature infants spent on average more than 14 days hospitalized before their first birthday, compared with a little more than two days for healthy, full-term infants and that they averaged more than 21 outpatient medical visits compared with just 14 for full-term infants.

The March of Dimes is a nonprofit group that works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

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