While the Food and Drug Administration bears the brunt of food safety oversight, a governmental responsibility called into question in the wake of the massive recall of peanut products, there are at least 15 government agencies which have a hand in “making sure food is safe.” Currently, there are at least 30 different laws, some of which date back to the early 1900s, that have a bearing on food safety. Unfortunately, there is no one agency that is solely responsible for food safety. We have seen a real need for a major restructuring of how the federal government operates relating to food safety.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been proposing an overhaul of the nation’s food safety structure for more than a decade. Hopefully, the Congress will now do something about the existing food safety problems following the outbreak of salmonella traced to peanuts blamed for sickening 600 people and killing at least nine others. A bill sponsored by Rep. DeLauro would divide the FDA into two, separating the agency’s drug oversight from its food safety duties.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has gone even further, suggesting that all the government agencies responsible for food safety (including those that are part of the Agriculture Department) should be combined into one. This is a major break from his predecessors. While such a radical overhaul would be difficult, it makes sense. Many in the food industry have long opposed any changes and their allies in Congress have resisted new laws. The result of high-profile outbreaks of food-borne illnesses from domestic and foreign food sources have been center-stage. We need a real change in how we protect consumers and it must take place now.
A study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recommended two years ago that Congress re-examine the system. It said 76 million people are sickened by food-borne illness each year, and 5,000 die. But few changes have been made. And despite the salmonella outbreak, even the lawmakers urging changes say a streamlined new agency is unlikely any time soon. A flurry of food safety bills have been introduced in Congress. Many would strengthen FDA’s oversight rather than creating a single lead agency. It might be good to see who all is involved at present. These are departments and agencies responsible for food safety:
• Department of Agriculture – Eight agencies within the department are separately responsible for such matters as the safety of domestic and imported meat, poultry and processed egg products; conducting food safety research; establishing quality standards; providing economic analysis; providing statistical data, including agricultural chemical usage data; and protecting the health and value of agricultural resources.
• Food and Drug Administration – Responsible for safety of all domestic and imported food products except meat, poultry and processed egg products.
• Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – Enforces laws covering the production, use and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Protecting public health, including food-borne illness surveillance.
• Environmental Protection Agency – Regulates the use of pesticides and maximum allowable residue levels in food commodities and animal feed.
• Federal Trade Commission – Prohibits false advertisements for food.
• National Marine Fisheries Service – Conducts voluntary, fee-for-service inspections of seafood safety and quality.
• Department of Homeland Security – Responsible for coordinating agencies’ food security activities.
If you agree Congress should make the needed changes, contact your Senators and House members and ask for their help.
Source: CBS News
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