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GAO: Food Safety Fragmentation Needs to be Fixed

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has come out with yet another report lambasting the federal food safety system for being fragmented and in need of reform, this time calling on the Office of Management and Budget to facilitate better governmentwide coordination.

In a report released Friday, GAO noted that while President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group was a “positive first step,” additional interagency planning will be necessary to streamline food safety oversight at the federal level. The accountability report comes on the tails of a governmentwide report on inefficiency and redundancy that recommended a consolidation of food safety oversight, which is currently in the hands of 15 agencies, into a single food safety agency.

“For more than a decade, GAO has reported on the fragmented nature of federal food safety oversight and how it results in inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources,” the agency noted.

Since 2007, GAO has flagged food safety as a “high-risk” issue in need of attention and issued over a dozen reports highlighting various vulnerabilities and illustrating the divides in jurisdiction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with overseeing approximately 80 percent of the food supply, pretty much everything except meat, poultry, and processed egg products — those fall under the purview U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

As Food Safety News‘ Gretchen Goetz recently explained, the logic behind food product jurisdiction can seem nonsensical: “The rules that determine which agency is responsible for which food can be complex, and sometimes the division of labor defies categorization altogether.”

Among the recent reports focused on food safety:  in 2009, GAO found gaps in import safety. Last year, GAO called on FDA to have more transparency regarding irradiation and blasted USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for inconsistent enforcement of humane slaughter laws — to name a few.

The new report recommends that the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the involved food safety agencies, develop a “government wide performance plan for food safety” that is results-oriented, and discuss strategy and resource management. GAO recommends the report be updated annually. 

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