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Issa Calls for Hearing on Food Safety Bureaucracy

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, yesterday asked committee chairman Ed Towns (D-NY) to hold a hearing “on the coordination–or lack thereof–between the numerous departments and agencies responsible for food safety.”

“Our Committee is uniquely positioned to look at the coordination and cooperation amongst departments and agencies,” writes Issa. “We should not wait until hundreds of deaths occur in a food crisis before we address the serious fragmentations in federal oversight of our increasingly global food supply chain.”

According to the letter, Issa asked Rep. Towns to hold a hearing on the federal food safety system in 2009, but the request went unanswered.

Issa joins a growing list of lawmakers asking for answers in the wake of a 550 million egg recall linked to over 1,500 Salmonella illnesses.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-MI) announced Aug. 26 that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on Sept. 14. scrutinizing the safety of the food supply “in light of the recent outbreak of Salmonella associated with eggs.”

The committee has asked Austin “Jack” DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, and Orland Bethel, owner of Hillandale Farms, to testify in the hearing.

Waxman and Stupak also sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture requesting documents and information relating to the egg recall.

The Committee is also requesting documents on the Salmonella outbreak and voluntary egg recall from both companies.  The letters specifically request any documents related to the widely-reported history of violations tied to DeCoster’s operations.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the committee that oversees FDA and USDA appropriations, sent a letter to both agencies asking why they did not take action against DeCoster farms, which operates Wright County Egg, in light of their longtime record of violations.

Rep. Issa is asking for Congress to evaluate systemic problems in the complicated food safety system.

“There is an alarming inconsistency in the approach of the Executive Branch with regard to protecting our food supply,” writes Issa.

“Currently, over fifteen departments and agencies have jurisdiction over our food safety,” he adds. “This top-line, multi-jurisdictional approach to food safety creates unnecessary bureaucratic overlap and confusion in ensuring the food that is delivered to our grocery stores, restaurants, farmers markets, and homes is protected from outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, such as [S]almonella.”

Issa cites a five-year-old Government Accountability Office report entitled, “Oversight of the Food Safety Activities: Federal Agencies Should Pursue Opportunities to Reduce Overlap and Better Leverage Resources,” pointing out that the recommendations of the GAO have not been fulfilled.

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