U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) Wednesday reintroduced the Single Food Safety Agency Act of 2010, a bill that would create a single federal agency to oversee the nation’s food supply, an effort to consolidate responsibilities that now belong to a dozen different federal agencies.

DeLauro, who chairs the committee that oversees the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture budgets, reintroduced her bill in response to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention foodborne illness statistics report, which estimates that each year 48 million people–one in six Americans–are sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food poisoning.
“The new figures released today by the CDC demonstrate that, while the methodology for estimating the number of foodborne illness has improved, foodborne disease remains a major public health threat,” said DeLauro in a statement.  “. . . these estimates show that significant work remains in identifying and combating the pathogens that cause foodborne illness.”

DeLauro believes the pending food safety bill, which is expected to become law, is “a good first step” toward reducing the public health burden of foodborne illness, but not a cure-all.

“The bill takes a common sense approach in addressing our food safety system by giving the FDA greater authority to inspect food safety records relating to recalls, increasing inspections of high-risk facilities, improving traceability in the event of an illness outbreak, and creating a more accurate registry of food facilities,” explains DeLauro. “However, our efforts to reform the food safety system must not end there because the jurisdictional overlaps and complicated regulatory structure will continue to hamper our efforts to make our food supply safer. 

“Ultimately, a single food agency solely focused on protecting American consumers is critical to ensuring the safety of our food supply and protecting the public health,” added DeLauro, who first introduced the measure to consolidate food safety into one agency in 1999.

Sen. Tom Coburn, a staunch opponent of the food safety bill pending in Congress, has brought up similar systemic jurisdictional and bureaucratic concerns.  Though Coburn disagrees with DeLauro’s belief that S. 510 will help make the food supply safer, he has indicated his support for restructuring the federal food safety system.

“We have 12 agencies–12 agencies across this government–responsible for food safety,” said Coburn in a mid-September speech on the Senate floor.  “What I would contend to my colleagues is that the same amount of money we spend now, if we spent it wisely, would give us a much safer food supply.”

Coburn said that if Congress were to increase oversight and accountability the next step would be to consolidate food safety responsibilities.

“We would eliminate the duplication.  We would make one line authority: This agency is responsible for all the food safety in this country.”

“If you buy a cheese pizza, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for that.  But if you buy a pepperoni pizza, it is the FDA.  I may have them reversed.  I do have them reversed. The FDA is responsible for cheese pizzas.  How does that make sense?”

“It is a symptom of the disease in Washington,” continued Coburn. “First of all, it is stupid. Second of all, it is inefficient.  Third of all, it guarantees the two agencies are not going to be talking to each other.”

“What do we have going on here? We have a mess.”