Single food agency needed to protect US food supply

Two high-level US politicians have called for a single food-safety agency amid concerns about whether the under-funded US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can guarantee the safety of the US food supply.

Senator Dick Durbin and House of Representatives member Rosa DeLauro have re-introduced the Safe Food Act in Congress. They first tried to admit it in 2005. If passed, the measure would consolidate the 12 separate federal branches — mostly within the FDA and USDA — that protect the food supply into a single body, the Food Safety Administration.

"Our current food-safety system has turned into a food fight among dozens of federal agencies," Durbin said. "This mismatched, piecemeal approach to food safety could spell disaster if we do not act quickly and decisively. That's why since 1997, I have been pushing for a single food-safety agency with the authority to protect the food supply based on sound scientific principles."

The idea of a single food-safety agency was boosted by a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) opinion that food contamination was a "high risk" to the economy and public safety.

"The report notes that the patchwork nature of the federal oversight of food safety calls into question whether the government can plan more strategically to inspect food production processes, identify and react more quickly to any food-borne illness outbreaks," said DeLauro. "The GAO also questions whether the fragmented structure allows agencies to focus on achieving results to promote the safety and integrity of the food supply. It is long past time for the Congress to pass the Safe Food Act and create a single food-safety agency."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington DC lobbying group, backed the move. "It makes no sense to have one agency regulate chickens and another regulate eggs, or to have one agency regulate cows and another to regulate milk," said CSPI food safety staff attorney Ken Kelly. "When one Cabinet secretary is responsible for pepperoni pizza and another is responsible for cheese pizza, you know something's wrong."

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 5,000 people die each year of food poisoning while more than 300,000 are hospitalised.

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