Describing the U.S. food safety system as “hopelessly fragmented and outdated,” a congresswoman is pushing for the creation of a single federal agency to secure the nation’s food supply.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture each have jurisdiction over food, with the FDA responsible for everything except meat, poultry, and some egg products.
“… nearly a decade since we passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, our food supply is still plagued by large food outbreaks that cause foodborne illness. In the last year, we have seen numerous high-profile outbreaks and recalls, including contaminated romaine lettuce, large ground beef recalls, and the largest egg recall in nearly a decade,” said U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, during a meeting of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus on Thursday.
“For consumers and businesses alike, food safety is a problem we must be focused on addressing. One problem in particular that I believe demands our attention is how hopelessly fragmented and outdated our food safety system is. I am proud to be reintroducing legislation with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois to create a single, independent food safety agency.”
DeLauro, who chairs the Food Safety Caucus, briefed representatives from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America at the caucus meeting June 20.
Dubbed the Safe Food Act of 2019, the DeLauro and Durbin’s bill seeks a single federal agency to be accountable for food safety, research, prevention, inspections, investigations, and labeling. The Connecticut Democrat said a single food safety agency is a commonsense concept.
The concept has earned the support of a coalition of food safety advocates and organizations, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America. As proposed by DeLauro and Durbin, the Safe Food Act of 2019 would:
- Transfer and consolidate food safety authorities for inspections, enforcement, and labeling into a single food safety agency;
- Require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks;
- Authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards; and,
- Strengthen oversight of foreign food facilities and improve food import inspections.
In conjunction with the call for a single food safety agency, DeLauro released a list of key findings of the state of food safety in the United States.
Key Finding 1 — Federal Food Safety Oversight is Fragmented
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has referred to federal oversight of the U.S. food supply as “fragmented” and a “patchwork.” Today, there are 15 federal agencies that administer at least 30 laws to regulate food safety. In recent years, GAO has identified flaws in this system, which has led the agency to name food safety to its “High-Risk List” since 2007.
Key Finding 2 — Food Outbreaks & Foodborne Illnesses Increased
Despite almost a decade since Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), data continues to show increases in the number of food outbreaks and the prevalence of foodborne illnesses. A recent analysis by U.S. Public Interest Research Group showed total food recalls rose from 2013 to 2018, including an 83 percent increase in Class I meat and poultry recalls that can cause serious illness and death. Additionally, according to CDC’s National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), the number of foodborne illnesses per year was higher in 2017 than in 2011, the year FSMA was signed into law.
Key Finding 3 — FDA Decreased Inspections of Imported Food
During recent decades, an increasing share of the food supply is being imported. However, despite FSMA’s mandate to increase inspection of imported foods, data obtained from the FDA show the agency only inspected 0.88 percent of food import lines last year. That percentage is less than half of the 1.9 percent of food import lines the agency inspected in 2012. Moreover, the FDA’s foreign offices, which assist in inspections of foreign food facilities, have been reduced from 12 in 2012 to just six in 2018.
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