Food Safety System May Be Set for an Overhaul

The Government Accountability Office and the House Ag Chair think changes are needed in food safety oversight.

Published on: Apr 30, 2007

The Government Accountability Office released a report Tuesday, April 24, that categorized U.S. food safety as a "high risk" area, "because of the need to transform this system to reduce risks to public health as well as the economy."

"While this nation enjoys a plentiful and varied food supply that is generally considered to be safe, the federal oversight of food safety is fragmented, with 15 agencies collectively administering at least 30 laws related to food safety," the report says.

One problem the report cites is that while USDA is responsible for only meat, poultry and processed egg products - about 20% of the food supply - it receives the majority of food safety expenditures. The FDA regulates the other 80% of the food supply, but only accounted for about 24% of expenditures.

Rather than give more funds to FDA, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., thinks FDA's responsibilities should be lightened.

"We think the inspections should be transferred to the Department of Agriculture - they're, in my opinion, the ones that can do this right," he told reporters during a teleconference Friday.

Peterson acknowledges that this move would mean more than just handing over inspection responsibilities, however. "It's going to take more resources," he says.

GAO urges more interagency communication, and proposes "that Congress enact comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation; analyze alternative organizational food safety structures; and consider legislation giving agencies authority to order food recalls."