A single federal food safety agency, long sought by many advocates, will happen if Congress grants the Obama Administration authority to reorganize the government, according to the subscription news service The Hagstrom Report.

In its Friday edition, The Hagstrom Report said Office of Management and Budget Director for Management, Jeff Zients, said that if Congress grants Obama the power to consolidate federal agencies, the first proposal will be to merge the six business-oriented agencies, folding together the Commerce Department’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Zients added that a follow-up proposal would be to consolidate USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with the food safety unit at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A consumer advocate tipped off Hagstrom that Obama Administration officials want to merge FSIS with the food regulatory function of FDA, which is part of Health and Human Service Department (HHS).

Obama administration officials are said to favor the merger because it would make food safety independent of USDA, which primarily exists to market and promote American farm products.

Presidents from Herbert Hoover through Ronald Reagan had the power to organize the executive branch of  government, subject only to Congressional veto. However, Congress took those organizational powers away during the Reagan Administration. In his last State of the State address, Obama asked to have the authority restored to the Oval Office, and this week renewed that call.

He has cited the trade and business consolidations as needed jobs measures.

Jerry Hagstrom pointed out that more than two federal agencies are involved in food safety.  “FSIS, whose inspectors must be present in every meat plant in the country, has a much bigger budget than FDA, which has responsibility for other foods. Twelve agencies are involved in food safety,” Hagstrom reported.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called for consolidation of all food-safety functions into a single agency, an end to fragmented oversight supported by most, but not all, outside food-safety advocates.

In renewing his call for Presidential consolidation authority on Friday, Obama said his plan to merge six business and trade agencies is just the “first action” he has in mind.

It apparently includes moving the National Oceanic and Fisheries Administration (NOAA) from the Commerce Department to Interior. Obama said that would bring all salmon regulation into one agency.

Late Friday, Food & Water Watch came out against that move.

“We are deeply concerned about President Obama’s proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of the Interior, the same Department that brought us BP’s Deepwater Horizon,” said F&WW executive director Wenonah Hauter.

“While the mission of NOAA is not consistent with the mission of the Department of Commerce where it currently resides, moving it to the Department of Interior will fail to eliminate any conflicts arising from dueling mandates,” she said. “This plan to slash the government fails to eliminate these conflicts and will do nothing to promote a better functioning executive branch.”

She also said the Washington D.C.-based environmental group “strongly urges against consolidating food safety functions of different government departments until much more progress is made to improve basic food safety protections.”

Other food safety groups, however, may see “consolidation powers” for Obama as a rare opportunity to achieve a long elusive goal.

  • Keija

    Has anybody read this shattering whistleblowing book ” U.N. a cosa NOstra” about the waste and inefficiency at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to which the US pays substantial money out of the tax pot or 20% of its budget ?

  • mcox

    First, it’s not “Hubert” Hoover.
    Second, Congress is most unlikely to grant the Obama administration the right to reorganize the government when they have proved unwilling to cooperate on much less weighty issues.

  • danflynn

    Yes, it is “Herbert” Hoover and we’ve corrected it.

  • doc raymond

    Hubert/Herbert. That is not the point here, not even close. The point is the most radical change in food safety since 1906 if the President is allowed to consolidate. And yes, there may be 12 agencies involved in food safety, but 99.9% of what you and I eat is regulated by FSIS and FDA. EPA may have something to do with fish from the gulf when it is contaminated, and NOAA may have a say in Salmon, but unless you consider alcohol one of the six basic food groups, you cannot count Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms as a food regulator. FSIS does a far better job of guaranteeing the meat and poultry we eat is safe than FDA does in guaranteeing the lettuce, spinach, peanut butter, cantaloupe and shell eggs we eat are safe. Moving FSIS to FDA does nothing but share their budget with FDA, thus decreasing the ability to regulate meat and poultry. My suggestion for a true reorganization that will improve food safety without adding to the federal deficit will follow next week.

  • cf

    Bigger is better?
    History has shown this does not usually show an improvement.
    Checks and balances?
    And the last sentence.
    We should be very, very concerned.

  • Dan Flynn

    Yes, it is “Herbert” Hoover and we’ve corrected it.

  • I agree that FDA should NOT be given responsibility for regulating meat, poultry & egg plants currently covered by FSIS. FDA has neither the interest or experience required for such inspection. FDA is perfectly satisfied visiting establishments once every 5-10 years, which won’t fly at slaughter establishments. I do believe FSIS needs to be removed from USDA, and inspection away from FSIS as well, which suffers from excessive influence from powerful industry influences. Can the eventual authority be staffed by strong individuals willing to stand up against industry powers?
    Am looking forward to Dr. Raymond’s suggestions next week, which hopefully will address my questions as well.
    John Munsell

  • I agree that FDA should NOT be given responsibility for regulating meat, poultry & egg plants currently covered by FSIS. FDA has neither the interest or experience required for such inspection. FDA is perfectly satisfied visiting establishments once every 5-10 years, which won’t fly at slaughter establishments. I do believe FSIS needs to be removed from USDA, and inspection away from FSIS as well, which suffers from excessive influence from powerful industry influences. Can the eventual authority be staffed by strong individuals willing to stand up against industry powers?
    Am looking forward to Dr. Raymond’s suggestions next week, which hopefully will address my questions as well.
    John Munsell

  • BB

    Sounds like we need to move the “Food” portion of the FDA to FSIS, increase the budget and have daily inspections in every plant. I know it’s not practical, but I agree that moving FSIS to FDA would hinder progress.
    Mr. Munsell….even if FSIS were removed from USDA, the powerfull influence of the corportations will follow FSIS wherever they go. That problem exists everywhere in the federal government. It’s the fox gaurding the hen house and I would be surprised if that ever changed.

  • Jake

    At a minimum FSIS should relinquish authority post-slaughter. That would eliminate such situations like cheese pizza being regulated by FDA but pepperoni pizza regulated by USDA; clam chowder being regulated by FDA but chicken chowder regulated by USDA. Do we really need continuous USDA inspection at taxpayer expense for foods made with meat or poultry that has already been inspected by USDA?

  • Minkpuppy

    I agree with BB that removing FSIS from USDA will do nothing to diminish the industry influence on the Agency. In the end, whatever agency FSIS becomes will still have to deal with the big packers and their influence over Congress. The packers will still be there even if FSIS goes away.
    I recall from my college days that concerns about a big packer monopoly and its influence were raised as far back as the late 80’s/early 90’s. The industry has only become more concentrated and more powerful since then. The locavore movement is a bit late to the party in that sense. IMO, if demand for change had happened 20 years ago, we’d be discussing a whole different set of issues today.
    Moving FSIS to FDA authority will weaken meat inspection, not improve it. As Doc Raymond points out, the cultures of the 2 agencies are drastically different and all it will do is spread the FSIS budget over two agencies instead of one. FDA is already drastically underfunded for food inspection.
    I agree with Jake that we can relinquish some authority over the ready-to-eat, processed foods like pizza. These foods can’t be made unless the meat is USDA inspected. It’s redundant. However, I do think that these products need to be inspected more frequently than once every 5-10 years. (When the cat is away, the mice will play!) FSIS is already moving toward risk-based inspection of these products and we should continue along that path. The plants with the least amount of risk will have fewer inspections but hopefully more often than once a year or less.
    There’s no easy fix to this mess. All angles need to be studied thoroughly to determine where the redundancies really exist and which inspection authorities can be transferred to another agency without mucking it up even more. This needs to be a slow process, not a hasty decision made to appease a Congress that realistically doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about its constituents.

    • In the FSIS Biz

      Ummmm, pizza is not RTE and if it has meat or poultry products on it, greater than 2% cooked or 3% raw, it is under FSIS inspection.
      There is a high risk with RTE products – Listeria monocytogenes comes to mind and FSIS has stricter requirements and plant testing requirements that must be met.
      There has to be much more research and innovation to determine a common goal and how both program areas could meet that and then decide if that would require re-writing the FMIA, PPIA and EPIA.

  • Dog Doctor

    I have worked for FDA, FSIS, and APHIS and worked extensively with CDC, local and state health departments. Having worked for these agencies, they do a very job doing their jobs but each agency has a very different mission and organizational culture.
    FDA does not maintain a present at each food facility that produces food under its jurisdiction and inspects these facilities at random times and it contracts with local and state departments to do additional inspection. This isn’t a great analogy but for most non FDA folks it will communicate the general idea, FDA inspectors are similar to state troopers running radar guns to catch speeders and investigating accidents. The speeders that are caught are those food facilities that are inspected and problems are found and the wrecks are those facilities that cause outbreaks or other violations that get public attention i.e. the tuna company that had cat food labels under their label on the can. Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA has to prove that a food is unfit before it can take action.
    USDA FSIS maintains a presence in each facility where animals are harvested and regular daily inspection in plants that procure meat and poultry products. To be considered wholesome, products that FSIS regulates have to be inspected and receive an inspection stamp which is a stricter standard than FDA’s requirements. Until the mid 1980’s, in many meat and poultry plants FSIS was the functional quality control system for the industry, towards the end of 80’s FSIS started to require a functional QC department for all plants, yes many plants had QC departments but many QC managers had production quotas and bonuses which encouraged them to see things in a greyer fashion than strict black and white but they have improved over my career where in most cases they are now functional and operational QC programs. So what is the impact of all these issues 1) FSIS inspection staff have a better relationship than FDA since they are there daily 2) FSIS knows how much of variation one day is from a string of 30 days. The issue with FDA is if you are having a bad day or are running in the grey zone when the inspector arrives the assumption is that you always run like that which is why FDA comes down like a ton of bricks as opposed to FSIS which is more aware of daily variation. Does this mean FSIS isn’t doing its job – NO. Both agencies contribute to the safety of the American Food Supply having been in both agencies there is no food that is more dangerous because of its inspection than another. FSIS also wants issues worked at the lowest possible level while FDA tends to evaluate issues to highest level.
    Therefore, both agencies have evolved with the industries they regulate and have evolved into very different creatures so blindly merging these two agencies would be an absolute disaster because of the inspectional and cultural clashes that would occur.
    If you want a single food safety agency, you to develop a 10 year merge plan with training for all employees in the new inspection system.
    In addition to FDA and FSIS, you will need to address the interaction with EPA which regulate chemical used in agriculture from cleaners to pesticides and allowable residues. You also have to determine how Local, State, and Tribal Health, Agriculture, and Food Agencies will integrate into this new super agency which various Federal agencies contract with for various activities from inspection to testing of samples at retail. Integrating Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the development of an active surveillance system for food borne illness will be a challenge. APHIS to deal with pre harvest health events of animals that will become food or produce food products. NOAA seafood inspection program need to be integrated in some fashion as does AMS grading for everything from meat, poultry, eggs, to produce and grain.
    Above all the Political appointees that run these agencies will have to demonstrate a level of leadership, maturity, and a willingness to work for the common good that hasn’t been seen in the last several administrations. I had the misfortune of having to work agency EOC’s during several critical events during those administrations, and after I retire I will tell those stories but neither party is guilt free nor have they appointed anyone that is ready to handle the transition in a manner that will not jeopardize the food safety system. We need a group of leaders that learned to share and play nice in the sand box and not the ones that had to have all the toys.
    In conclusion, the US is not ready for the single food safety agency nor is likely to be ready in the near future. On the bright side recognizing these issues, most agencies are learning to work better together and become more efficient to deal with the budget cutbacks and, if nothing else they are united by a perceived common enemy in the form of The Department of Homeland security.