A new bill, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), looks to create a single food safety agency under the department of Health and Human Services that would be responsible for keeping all food safe for market. The legislation, known as the Food Safety Administration Act, would ensure that a single, full-time, fully empowered expert leader oversees all aspects of FDA’s food program.
“Food safety is currently a second-class citizen at the FDA,” Rep. DeLauro says. “Right now, there are no food policy experts in charge of food safety at the FDA. That is unacceptable and contributes to a string of product contaminations and subsequent recalls that disrupt the supply chain, contribute to rising prices and, in many cases, result in consumer illness and death.”
Mitzi Baum, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness, notes that in recent history, FDA has had seven commissioners, all of whom were medical professionals. “Naturally, their focus has been medical products; thus, the food program has not received the attention or leadership it requires,” she tells Food Quality & Safety. “As the focal point has been on drug and medical devices, which receive disproportionately more funding, it has become abundantly clear the food program needs to stand alone to remain focused on the ever-evolving food system, food safety, and its impact on public health.”
Baum notes that appointing a food safety expert in a leadership role to direct the entirety of the Food Safety Administration would provide accountability across the programs, deliver coordinated responses to crises, improve communication, accelerate decision-making processes, and create a new culture of food safety across the agency. “The benefits are wide ranging but, most importantly, the impact would be on public health,” she adds.
Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy for the Consumer Federation of America, says that the legislation would bring much-needed attention and resources to overseeing the 80% of the food supply currently under FDA’s jurisdiction. “More and more in recent years, FDA’s drug and medical device programs have come to overshadow food,” he tells FQ&S. “By moving the FDA food program units—the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA)—under one roof, the Food Safety Administration administrator will be able to better manage resources and be held accountable to Congress.”
Additionally, the bill would also set mandatory inspection frequencies for certain high-risk facilities and, in particular, require inspections of infant formula manufacturers every six months, which will help to avoid a replay of the problems at Abbott Lab’s Sturgis facility.
FDA Announces Review of Foods Program
On July 19, FDA announced that the agency will conduct an independent evaluation of its Human Foods Program, including the Office of Food Response and Policy (OFPR), CFSAN, as well as relevant parts of the ORA.
“While America’s food supply is safe … the program has been stressed by the increasing diversity and complexity of the nation’s food systems and supply chain,” said Robert M. Califf, MD, FDA’s commissioner, in a statement. “Fundamental questions about the structure, function, funding, and leadership need to be addressed.”
A report on the review’s findings will be issued within 60 days.