It is not a new concept that with so many agencies trying to protect and monitor the United States' food supply that there is an overlap of duties. But a new bill is hoping to make a change in how the U.S. protects its food.
"Our current food safety system has turned into a food fight among more than 35 federal agencies," says Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "This is politics at its worst where American families rightfully demand our best. Congress must summon the political will to protect Americaâ€™s families with a modern, coordinated food safety agency."
Durbin and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn. introduced the Safe Food Act of 2004 that would create a single agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the nationâ€™s food supply. The legislation calls for the development of a Food Safety Administration and the implementation of a food safety program to standardize the food safety activities of Americaâ€™s food supply.
Under current law, food safety monitoring, inspection and labeling functions are spread across 12 agencies in the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which oversees meat, poultry and egg products; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which oversees most other food products; and the U.S. Commerce Departmentâ€™s National Marine Fisheries Service which inspects fish.
The new agency created by the lawmakersâ€™ bill - dubbed the Food Safety Administration - would be the first of its kind, free from the entanglements of past regulators who have had to balance food safety with the competing priorities of drug approval or agriculture promotion.
Some of the new responsibilities under the Food Safety Administration include:
- Regular, but random, inspection of all food processing plants.
- Categorized review process for all foods to monitor and inspect them based on their risk, not their name.
- Increased oversight of imported foods.
- Established requirements for tracing foods to point of origin.
The Food Safety Administration would be comprised of approximately 14,250 people, moved from various departments. According to the 2004 enacted budget of the agencies, approximately $1.9 billion would be used for the creation of the new Food Safety Administration.
The lawmakers says that while it was unlikely that the bill would be acted upon by Congress this year, introduction of the legislation now will allow time for input from consumer advocates, food safety organizations and others interested in the issue. Durbin and DeLauro say they would likely introduce the bill again next year shortly after Congress convenes.