Lawmakers Renew Calls for Single Food Safety Agency
Lawmakers have renewed calls for a single federal agency to oversee the safety of the U.S. food supply in response to the recent outbreak of E. coli linked with bagged spinach, USA Today reports.
Last year, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Safe Food Act (S 729) in the Senate, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the bill (HR 1507) in the House. The bills, which have remained in congressional committees since their introduction, would establish a federal Food Safety Administration.
Currently, USDA oversees the safety of meat, poultry and eggs, and FDA oversees the safety of most other foods. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the Department of Treasury have smaller roles in oversight of food safety.
Supporters maintain that the bills would improve efforts to prevent, track and contain outbreaks linked with contaminated foods.
DeLauro on Monday in an e-mail wrote, "In my view, if we already had a consolidated food safety agency ... we might already have gotten to the bottom of this latest outbreak. Perhaps it never would have occurred in the first place." A report released last year by the Government Accountability Office recommended efforts "to reduce overlap and better leverage resources" in the oversight of food safety.
However, Peter Hutt, who served as chief counsel for FDA in the 1970s, said, "It makes no sense putting the inspection of live animals with the inspection of organic farms. They have nothing in common." Hutt said that FDA requires additional funds for oversight of food safety.
"The problem is that FDA has been flat-lined in terms of budget for the last 10 years. We are strangling the agency to death. The problem is not the lack of ability in the agency," Hutt said.
David Acheson, chief medical officer for the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said, "The system is working," adding that "there is a lot of cooperation" between the agency and USDA (Davis/Bleimes, USA Today, 9/26).
WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show," an NPR-syndicated program, on Tuesday in the first hour of the show is scheduled to include a discussion on efforts to improve food safety oversight.
Guests on the program are scheduled to include Robert Brackett, director of the FDA Center for Food and Safety and Applied Nutrition; Durbin; David Gombas, vice president for science and technical affairs for the United Fresh Produce Association; William Schultz, a former deputy commissioner of FDA; and Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 9/26).
The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer and Windows Media after the broadcast.