Citing fragmented food safety oversight, which is split up between 15 federal agencies, two lawmakers want Congress to scrap the current system and the ineffective laws that regulate it.
The Safe Food Act could weave the patchwork system “where no single voice guides industry, retailers and consumers” into a seamless force for safer food in the United States according to sponsors, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT. The pair introduced similar legislation in 1999.
Senate co-sponsors this time around include, as of June 26, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY. In a statement announcing the re-introduction of the Safe Food Act, Durbin and DeLauro called for action to stem the rising tide of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks that are being documented by local, state and federal public health officials every year.
“Preventable foodborne illnesses are putting people’s lives at risk unnecessarily, and the need for additional reform is urgent,” DeLauro said in announcing the introduction of the bill.
“That is why I am proud to join Sen. Durbin in reintroducing this bill to ensure that we have a single person being held accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations, and labeling. We need a common-sense, 21st century way of ensuring food safety — and a single food safety agency is it.”
DeLauro has long been a champion of stronger food safety measures. She chairs the Congressional Food Safety Caucus and is on the House committee that handles funding for the Food and Drug Administration.
Durbin’s committee assignments in the Senate include appropriations and agriculture/nutrition/forestry. As Democratic Whip, Durbin is the second highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate. In joining DeLauro in the announcement about the introduction of the legislation, Durbin said he wants to give “families peace of mind that the food in their refrigerators, pantries, and on their dining room tables won’t harm them.”
“Our food safety system is fragmented, outdated, and in desperate need of repair,” said Durbin. “I’m reintroducing this bill with Representative DeLauro and my colleagues in the Senate because as it stands, our nation’s broken food safety system sickens 48 million Americans every year.”
The vast majority of food in the United States is under at least partial jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over the meat, poultry and some processed egg products. Governmental entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency have some fringe responsibilities in relation to food safety, but the FDA is responsible for more of the food safety heavy lifting than all other agencies and offices combined.
The bill sponsors created the following one-page summary of the legislation that seeks to create one food safety agency. To read the full text of the safe food bill as introduced, please click here.
Safe Food Act Summary
Background: Foodborne illness is a common and costly, yet largely preventative public health problem.
About one in six Americans — or 48 million people — get sick from one of 31 pathogens known to cause foodborne illness each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year and 3,000 Americans die of foodborne diseases. This costs the United States more than $15.6 billion each year.
To prevent such illnesses, there are currently fifteen different federal agencies implementing more than 35 food safety laws that makeup food safety oversight in the United States. The two primary agencies are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — which is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish — and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — which is responsible for most all other food.
Issue: For more than four decades, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported on the fragmented federal food safety oversight system, which has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources. Because of the jurisdictional split across food products, coordination between the USDA and FDA creates a dysfunctional system. For example, a frozen cheese pizza is regulated by the FDA, whereas a frozen pepperoni pizza is regulated completely differently by the USDA. This means that inspections at pizza production facilities must be carried out simultaneously by two different sets of guidelines and two different federal agencies.
In 2010, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) following a number of high-profile foodborne illness cases in the early 2000s. FSMA updated the FDA’s food safety authorities to better address emerging risks and to focus priorities on preventing—rather than responding to—foodborne illness. However, our nation’s fragmented food safety system is obsolete and continues to put Americans at risk to foodborne illness.
Solution: The Safe Food Act would establish a single, independent food safety agency: the Food Safety Administration. The Food Safety Administration would consolidate the FDA and USDA food safety functions of inspection, enforcement, labeling, and research into a single entity, addressing the jurisdictional fragmentation in our food safety system. The Safe Food Act would modernize federal food safety laws to
protect and improve public health by:
• Providing authority to require the recall of unsafe food and allow federal inspectors to conduct oversight inspections;
• Requiring risk assessments and preventive controls plan to reduce adulteration;
• Authorizing enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards;
• Improving foreign food import inspections; and
• Requiring full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks.
The Safe Food Act would also:
• Make it easier for producers, processors, and packagers to comply with federal food safety standards;
• Develop data sharing programs to learn more about foodborne illness and food contamination events;
• Help families hurt by foodborne illness navigate the maze of federal, state, and local food safety
Supporters: The bill is supported by the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, the National Consumers League, and STOP Foodborne Illness.
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