Creating One Food Safety Agency
• There are currently 15 different agencies administering more than 30 different food safety laws across the country.
• Among these different agencies, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is designated as one of the nation’s primary public health agencies.
• Food safety inspections are broken up by categories across the different agencies. This scheme is often criticized for its inefficiencies and for the inherent communication problems between the agencies it creates. For example, while the FDA inspects in-shell eggs, USDA inspects liquid egg products; FDA is responsible for sausage casings, while USDA is responsible for sausage meat; FDA has oversight over closed-faced sandwiches, and USDA over open-faced sandwiches; and FDA inspects bagel dogs, while the USDA stamps their seal of approval on corn dogs.
• Congress created the USDA to promote the sale and production of agricultural activities through the Agricultural Marketing Service while simultaneously giving USDA responsibility over assuring the safety of meat and poultry products. As a result, the USDA faces an inherent conflict of interest when executing public health programs.
• The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the National Academies of Science (NAS), and Legislators (such as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)) have all urged substantial structural reform of the food safety system.
• When food sales and food safety interests have conflicted, food safety has often not been the USDA’s primary concern.
• While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has seen substantial reforms through the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the USDA has not been afforded the same attention. The USDA does not have the ability to administer an effective public health program for the following reasons:
- Inspections for both animal health and food safety have been, for the majority of its history, administered as part of the USDA’s marketing functions with a focus on industry concerns, rather than public health.
- Although USDA inspectors are dedicated to protecting the safety of our meat and poultry supply, the agency’s meat and poultry inspection laws are neither science-based nor risk-based.
- The USDA has no capacity to permanently close down plants that regularly fail to meet microbiological performance standards.
- The USDA has no capacity to permanently close down plants that regularly fail to meet their own Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and sanitation plans.
- The USDA has no mandatory recall authority, like that of the FDA.
• Stop Foodborne Illness believes that having food safety activities spread across 15 different agencies wastes public resources and reduces the government’s ability to protect public health.
• In accordance with the National Academies of Science, Congress is urged to give the USDA the power to develop and enforce performance standards including limits on microbiological contamination.
• We support the creation of one national food safety agency as it would improve ease of information transfer and the speed of responses to food crises across the country. In 1999, 2005, and 2007, Stop Foodborne Illness pushed to create an independent food safety agency via support for the Safe Food Act (which was unfortunately not passed).