Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Single Federal Food Safety Agency?

According to an article in the LA Times, The Government Accountability Office is recommending the creation of a single federal food safety agency.  Why you might ask? Apparently such a move would save billions of dollars and would improve oversight. The GAO report can be found here.

In some ways, I like this idea. I always wondered why a single agency governed both food and drugs (the Food and Drug Administration).  I also wondered why the FDA was not more involved with meat and farm products. Aren't those products food too? Then what about catfish as the LA Times articles brings up? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for inspecting catfish, but the FDA is responsible for seafood?  What about farmed fish in general? Is that a farm product or seafood?  Then the FDA is supposed to regulate animal food. Shouldn't that be an issue for the USDA? I can see where there is a lot of confusing overlap.

On the other hand, I do not like this idea. Sometimes I feel like these huge lumbering agencies are more likely to drop the ball.  Take for instance the peanut contamination and the recall of eggs tainted with salmonella.  I feel like it is harder to make federal employees accountable when an organization is huge and safety inspectors have several different layers of people in charge over them.

I am all for saving billions of dollars and for a safer food industry in the United States. I would like to see some of that savings invested in testing more imported foods, specifically seafood. Ever since I read this article about seafood from China, Vietnam and Malaysia that are contaminated with chemicals, I stray away from certain seafoods at restaurants. The FDA only tests 2% of imported seafood. Will a single agency make our system safer? That remains to be seen.

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