Washington, DC — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to close as many as half of its laboratories across the country, despite pending appropriation increases to expand this lab network to fight bio-terrorist attacks on our food supplies, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
FDA’s network of 13 laboratories operates to detect health hazards such as tampering with food and medicines. These labs also support investigation into public health threats, such as E.coli outbreaks as well as a host of agency compliance inspection and enforcement actions.
According to agency staff, the seven laboratories being considered for closure are located in Detroit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle.
The emerging plan resembles one rejected a decade ago that would have closed ten laboratories and left four “multi-purpose mega labs.” In a March 1996 report, the General Accounting Office (now called the Government Accountability Office) panned the plan, finding any promised efficiencies “questionable” and difficult to quantify. In addition, GAO expressed concerns that closing labs near ports of entry and key food supplies could undercut FDA’s public health protection capabilities.
“FDA’s plan means that, in the event of an outbreak or emergency, people living in San Francisco or Denver may have to wait longer while their samples are shipped off to one of the remaining labs in Arkansas or L.A.,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that FDA appears to be proceeding in the absence of any Congressional review. “FDA should share its plan with the public, Congress and its own specialists now – before putting it into motion, not after.”
In a December 6, 2006 email to staff, Margaret Glavin, Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, wrote that the agency would –
“Consolidate laboratory and other facilities to allow us to provide state-of-the-art regulatory support to our public health mission, to focus on Center priorities, and to maximize efficiencies…Over the next weeks the TLT [the Transformation Leadership Team] will consider and make recommendations on such things as which laboratories will remain open…”
Paradoxically, President Bush’s FY 07 budget for FDA proposes a $20 million increase to “expand the network of laboratories that would rapidly and competently analyze samples in the event of a terrorist attack on our nation’s food supply,” according to an agency news release. The new reorganization plan, however, appears to move in a diametrically opposite direction of shrinking rather than expanding the laboratory network.