The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends the consolidation of food safety oversight into a single agency, which it says could save money and improve efficiency and effectiveness.
The thing that has hurt the movement toward a single food safety agency is the fact that the two primary agencies enforce different laws based on two different models of regulatory control.
Robert Buchanan, PhD, University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
In a Mar. 1 report, “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” from http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-318SP , the GAO suggests that the current fragmented system for oversight of food safety is wasteful and ineffective. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are the primary food safety agencies, the report notes that 15 agencies have some degree of oversight on 30 food-related laws.
“While I do not agree with all of the GAO’s findings, the report does accurately provide additional evidence for the need to consolidate the responsibilities of the 15 federal agencies that currently have jurisdiction over our nation’s food safety system into a single independent agency,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in a statement. “I have introduced legislation that would establish such an agency since 1999, and believe that this is a critical step toward preventing foodborne illnesses and protecting public health. A single agency dedicated solely to food safety would eliminate the jurisdictional conflicts, as well as significantly reduce duplication and cost.”
But establishing an umbrella food safety agency is only part of the battle, said Robert Buchanan, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in College Park.
“The thing that has hurt the movement toward a single food safety agency is the fact that the two primary agencies enforce different laws based on two different models of regulatory control,” he explained. “Unless Congress is willing to change the underlying legislation and come up with a single approach to how they’re going to regulate food, it’s not going to help. You’re still going to have meat inspectors and poultry inspectors looking at every plant every day, and the FDA will still be starved and only do periodic inspections.”
Dr. Buchanan strongly advocates combining agencies, but only under a single set of legislative mandates, he said. “If you combined them tomorrow, they’d still be broken up into the same structure. You’d get small economies of scale but also real confusion as a result of trying to force-fit things together,” he added.