August 18, 2007/Chicago Tribune/Washington -- Bowing to growing pressure over apparent lapses in the nation's food safety system, the Food and Drug Administration Friday canceled plans to close several field laboratories and district offices.

In a memo to her staff, Maggie Glavin, the FDA's assistant commissioner for regulatory affairs, said the decision would give the agency more time to examine its food-safety enforcement role. Glavin's decision makes permanent an earlier FDA move postponing the closure of seven of its 13 field laboratories.

The labs are used to test foods that FDA inspectors suspect may be contaminated. The plan to close the labs, which would have affected about 250 FDA employees, had drawn sharp criticism from some in Congress, where food safety has become a hot topic in the wake of scares over contaminated food imported from China and domestic food-borne illness outbreaks involving bagged spinach and peanut butter.

In addition, Glavin announced the agency would cancel plans to reduce its 20 district offices to 16. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of a congressional subcommittee that has held hearings on the FDA's food-safety program, said the agency's decision Friday was due to "the increased oversight we've been putting on the FDA."

Glavin's announcement follows an Aug. 1 decision by FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to postpone the planned lab closings. Von Eschenbach said at the time that he wanted to await the conclusions of an import safety working group appointed July 18 by President Bush.

That group, which is made up of Cabinet members and headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, was told to report its findings in 60 days.

From the August 27, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash