Conventional political wisdom holds that the months and even years after Congress enacts major reform may not be the best time to propose more reform.  

But there are almost three thousand miles between K Street and the fertile Palouse where Washington State University is located, and three authors in the WSU School of Economics clearly did not get that memo from the political professionals.

Taking over the editorial pages of the journal Food Policy, WSU’s Trenton G. Smith, Hayley H. Chouinard, and Philip R. Wandschneider  say they want more —much more reform than was included in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law just 51 days ago.

And that new law was the biggest thing to happen to food safety in Washington D.C. in the past 73 years.

But it is not enough for the three WSU professors, who take the large view in an 11-page editorial that begins with the simple statement that: “Americans do not eat well.”

Their review looks at what they call “the modern spread of diet-related chronic disease” and “more than a century of innovation in food processing technology, discovery of nutrition science, and corrective policy measures aimed at improving public health.”

The WSU authors say the food industry has a long history of “success at regulatory capture,” which is why they call for the creation of a single new independent food standards agency devoted to protecting the interests of the American consumer.

In calling for a new Food Quality Standards Agency, the WSU team said the current setup involving both USDA and FDA translates into  “dual missions” of both protecting consumers and promoting the industry.

The authors say the new agency could withstand being “captured” by industry interests if implemented with four attributes, including:

  • A leader appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

  • Independent budget authority. 

  • Independent rule-making authority.

  • Independent enforcement powers.

“These measures will collectively ensure that the new ‘food watchdog’ agency we propose will be protected from the whims of Congress or future administrations, or will have the power to enact reforms that will facilitate both innovation and price competition in markets for higher-quality food products,” they wrote. 

“It is not often that enactment of a single public policy has the potential to both improve market efficiency and prevent millions of premature deaths, but after a century of neglect, the modern American market for food presents just such an opportunity.”