President Barack Obama is looking to consolidate food safety. At press time, the President proposed a bill as part of his 2016 budget plan to create a single food safety agency by combining the responsibilities of the FDA, USDA, and other agencies in order to better protect the food supply.
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The proposed agency would be housed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since food safety and foodborne outbreaks are public health concerns, falling in line with the larger mission of this department. It would be independent from the FDA and be primarily responsible for food inspections, outbreaks, and mitigation.
Currently, most of the responsibility for food safety and inspections lies with the FDA and USDA. However, according to the bill, the current system’s “fractured oversight and disparate regulatory approaches” have been known to cause confusion. The bill states that consolidation “is an essential step to reforming the federal food safety system overall.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says a single agency would expedite the sharing of information and ensure better coordination, cutting down on delays that could prevent the government from acting—which he acknowledges sometimes occurs due to having multiple agencies. Ultimately, the proposed bill is meant to streamline inspections and eliminate unnecessary overlap.
Of course there are skeptics. One of the main concerns of critics is housing the new agency under HHS. Many worry that food safety won’t get the attention it deserves under this massive department because it’s already responsible for administrating other important health programs.
Meanwhile, groups like the National Consumers League are praising President Obama’s new proposal. “Our current food systems are redundant and fragmented,” says Sally Greenberg, executive director. “Consolidating USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service and FDA’s food safety oversight will ensure cohesive practices and superior response times in the event of an outbreak, ultimately keeping consumers and our food supply safer.”
The group is urging Congress to support the creation of the new food safety agency, but many believe the President’s proposal will likely meet opposition in the Republican controlled Congress…