Following the latest outbreak of salmonella-tainted peanut products, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act this week aimed at fixing systemic problems in the U.S. food safety system. DeLauro called for modernizing food safety laws and establishing a separate Food Safety Administration headed by an expert in food safety within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Currently, food safety is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is also responsible for drug safety and advancing public health by introducing new drugs and medicines, a combined responsibility that many feel is too vast for one agency and often leaves food safety as a lower priority.
"This salmonella outbreak represents the full-scale breakdown of a patchwork food safety system. And it should act as the final wake-up call," DeLauro said in a press release. "That is why, today, I am introducing the Food Safety Modernization Act to separate food safety regulation from drug and device approvals and to restore the balance that has long been missing at Health and Human Services."
"The Act would split off the food safety responsibility from the FDA and create a separate food safety administration that would accomplish specific goals," said Adriana Surfas, press secretary for DeLauro. "These include elevating the issue of food safety. Currently at the FDA, food safety takes a back seat and is only responded to in the case of an outbreak."
Surfas also said the new legislation would provide for a better platform for budgeting resources and funding and also address the complex and diffuse structure of the FDA that is in part responsible for its ineffectiveness at preventing outbreaks.
"A number of folks are responsible for food safety within the FDA — the Office of Regulatory Affairs, the Center for Food Safety, the Commissioner's Office, the National Center for Toxicological Research and more," Surfas said, "so food safety is very spread out and divided in the agency."
"Also, currently there is no one individual in the federal government responsible for food safety," Surfas said, "and so right now it is buried under layers of bureaucracy. Even the Commissioner of the FDA is typically chosen based on knowledge of drug safety and medical devices, not food safety.
The congresswoman is backing her legislation with strong criticism and a call to action for the new administration.
"With every recall the American people grow more concerned and the momentum for reform grows," DeLauro said in the release. "For eight long years, our food safety system has been crippled by disinvestment, mismanagement, and a failure to meet its most basic regulatory responsibilities. True reform is going to require strong leadership from our president. I am confident, at last, that we have a government that understands its obligation to its citizens."
"This [outbreak] has brought out so many problems with our food safety system and the FDA," Surfas said. "There were over 550 people who were sickened from this outbreak. And what do you say to the families of the eight people who died because of this when you have a situation that could have been prevented had the appropriate actions been taken?"