It’s time to rebuild America’s food safety system


– Opinion –

A few weeks ago, food safety advocate Bill Mahler launched a campaign to “get the ‘F’ out of the FDA.”

Mahler proposed that Congress split the Food and Drug Administration into two separate agencies, one responsible for food safety and human nutrition and the other responsible for drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. bottom.

While I agree with the need for a separate agency to oversee food safety and human nutrition, I do not believe that Mr Mahler’s proposals are sufficient.

The time has come to consolidate all food safety activities at the federal level under a single umbrella.

Here’s why.

Division of Jurisdiction
Responsibility for overseeing food safety is currently divided between two major federal agencies: the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, catfish and egg products.

FDA is responsible for the safety of all foods that do not contain meat or poultry, whole eggs, and all seafood except catfish.

This division of responsibilities by commodity has created some strange and confusing situations.

Canned foods containing meat or poultry are under FSIS jurisdiction, but all other canned foods are regulated by the FDA.

Pizzas containing more than 2% meat are an FSIS responsibility. Meat is less than 2 percent and the FDA takes over.

Open sandwiches containing meat are supervised by FSIS. Closed sandwiches, whether they contain meat or not, are the responsibility of the FDA.

These arbitrary distinctions mean that many food processing plants must respond to two separate federal agencies.

conflict of interest

USDA operates under a dual mission.

On the one hand, it has the responsibility to prove that the food under its jurisdiction is safe for human consumption.

Meanwhile, the USDA is also responsible for promoting US agricultural products to domestic and foreign markets.

This is the same as the quality assurance department of a food company reporting to the marketing department manager.

We just recently saw the outcome of this dispute in a FSIS draft that would allow a maximum of 1 salmonella per gram of chicken in stuffed raw breaded chicken products.

Unscrupulous Proposal

It’s time to destroy the current inefficient, wasteful and contradictory system and build a new system centered around a new Food Safety and Nutrition Authority (FSNA) with a seat in the Cabinet.

FSNA will take over all of the activities of the Food Safety and Nutrition Program currently conducted by the FDA. Additionally, all responsibilities for meat, poultry, egg products and catfish fall under the FSNA umbrella.

USDA will continue to be responsible for certifying livestock for slaughter and certifying whether their meat is fit for human consumption.

Once the meat and poultry leaves the slaughterhouse, jurisdiction shifts to the FSNA.

This approach has the advantage of eliminating the conflicts of interest inherent in USDA’s dual mandate. It would also clear up arbitrary and confusing jurisdictional overlaps between FDA and FSIS.

Consolidating all food safety responsibilities into a single independent agency is not a new idea.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was formed in 1997 by consolidating the food safety divisions of the Health Protection Agency (then Canada’s FDA), the Department of Agriculture, and the Fisheries and Marine Service into one agency.

Other countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand are following a similar path.

Conclusion
Congress has spent decades building its current dysfunctional structure.

It is therefore the responsibility of Congress to dismantle this broken system and build a new system that serves the interests of the people whom Congress elects to represent.

Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared on eFoodAlert and is reprinted here with permission.

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