A recent editorial commentary by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette addresses the recent incidents of food-borne disease, particularly those involving produce in restaurant chains such as Taco Bell.

Despite more than 12,000 food-processing plants in the United States, says the editorial,  the budget of a key federal watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, has been cut by 37 percent since 2003.

Last year, the agency conducted 4,573 inspections. The goal this year: 3,400. While the number of federal inspectors and inspections is declining, the number of illnesses linked to produce have jumped sharply, doubling between 1998 and 2004.

The editorial further goes on to say that “The fragmented approach to food safety must be streamlined and bolstered if the public is to be protected. E. coli and other pathogens don’t merely give people a stomach ache; they can kill,” and urges Congress to prepare to make the changes necessary to retain public confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply.