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The New York Times this morning reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has backed off plans to close more than half its field testing laboratories, a move that it had said would allow it to be more efficient but that others had criticized as being more focused on cost-saving than effectiveness.

However, the move by FDA is just temporary until a working group appointed by President Bush can report back on how better to guarantee the safety of imported foods. FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach said his decision was contingent on getting feedback from the panel, which is due to report by mid-September.

Congressional investigators already have charged that if the plan to cut the number of testing laboratories in half is implemented, the FDA will be unable to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply.
KC's View:
My abiding cynicism about the presidential working group – which is made up of Cabinet secretaries and other senior government officials – has been made clear in this space before, and I see no reason to feel more confident now.

It isn’t like the FDA made the decision to close those plants in a vacuum – it had to be vetted by the White House. I fear that the working group is just a political effort to put some of the criticism to rest, and that these lab closings are going to happen eventually.

If nothing else, closing these labs sends entirely the wrong message.