Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced bills in Congress that would establish a single, independent federal food safety agency. Food safety oversight is currently split up among 15 agencies in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Commerce. The Safe Food Act of 2015 introduced Wednesday in both houses of Congress would consolidate all the authorities for food safety inspections, enforcement and labeling into the Food Safety Administration — independent of any federal department. The aim is to improve food safety for consumers, while also cutting back on the costs of a dispersed system with overlapping responsibilities between agencies — something Durbin noted, during a Wednesday call with reporters, should get the Republican majority to look at the legislation. “There is a lot of duplication, a lot of waste, and we can save money and make America’s food supply even safer,” he said. In an op-ed in The Hill, Durbin and DeLauro referred to food safety as an issue of national security. “What the bill does is remedy the situation,” DeLauro said. “With a single agency, we believe our country will be able to have the ability to detect relatively minor problems before they become major outbreaks.” The Act would provide the Food Safety Administration with mandatory recall authority for unsafe food, require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration, authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards, improve foreign food import inspections, and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks. DeLauro said the bill builds on the improvements made in FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The federal agencies that would be incorporated into one include:

  • FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)
  • The resources and facilities of FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs that administer and conduct inspections of food and feed facilities and imports
  • The resources and facilities of the Office of the FDA Commissioner that support CFSAN, CVM and inspections
  • USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service
  • The part of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service that administers shell egg surveillance services
  • The part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area related to food and feed safety
  • The part of USDA’s Animal and Plant Inspection Health Service related to the management of animals going into the food supply
  • The part of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce that administers the seafood inspection program

DeLauro said the consolidation would also eliminate interference with the agriculture promotion goals of USDA and trade goals of the Department of Commerce and enhance FDA’s other missions regarding drugs and tobacco. A single food safety agency is not a new concept, and the two lawmakers have sponsored Safe Food Acts five times before, though the most recent was in 2007. In addition, the Government Accountability Office has reported on the need for better coordination of food safety activities over the years. DeLauro referenced eggs as an example of the current food safety system’s fragmentation. “One agency manages the health of hens, another oversees the feed that they eat, another sets egg quality standards but does not test them for Salmonella,” she said. “While still in its shell, the egg is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration, but once it’s processed into an egg product, it becomes the responsibility of Food Safety and Inspection Service.” In her statement of support for the bills, Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that, “It’s crazy to have one cabinet secretary in charge of chicken, beef, and pepperoni pizza, and another cabinet secretary responsible for eggs, milk, and cheese pizza.” “A single food safety agency would allow us to better focus our resources where the greatest risks lie,” said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “The Safe Food Act is a strong vision for the future of food safety.” Moving forward, Durbin and DeLauro said they will work to build bipartisan support for the bills. Current cosponsors of the Senate Safe Food Act include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).