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3-AGENCY FOOD MONITORING IS TANGLED MESS, GAO SAYS

Better government monitoring is needed to avoid incidents like the one in which the wrong pesticide was sprayed on oats used in Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, a government watchdog agency says.

"It was basically luck that we found this at all," Ed Zadjura, researcher for the General Accounting Office, told a House Gov-ernment Operations subcommittee Wednesday.Urging such an overhaul in the oversight system, the GAO said the current monitoring scheme is a tangled mess run by three different agencies. Instead, the GAO said, scarce resources should focus on government-monitored quality control rather than trying to catch problems just through inspections.

The GAO also said one agency should run food safety.

The congressional investigative agency released two reports criticizing how the government guards meat, poultry and other foods against unsafe residues from pesticides, drugs and other chemicals.

The food industry generally supports the shift to quality control, known as hazard analysis and critical control points. The Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration are coming up with regulations to make that shift for seafood, meat and poultry and other foods.

Because of a lax, overly stressed system, the FDA didn't discover until May, during routine surveillance of grain silos, that an unapproved pesticide was being used on oats.

By that time, Dursban had been used to fumigate the oats for a year. Four million of the 21 million bushels of contaminated oats had been turned into Cheerios, Frankenberry, Kix and other cereals.

Authorities said the Cheerios incident posed no health risk. The chemical used is a cheaper cousin of an approved version.

Still, the incident cost Minneapolis-based General Mills Inc. more than $100 million to throw away 50 million boxes of Cheerios and other cereals this summer. A pesticide contractor has been indicted on fraud charges in the case.

The FDA samples 1 percent to 2 percent of the food supply to ensure that pesticide levels are within bounds.