Would One Food Agency Work?

GAO report says combining the 12 agencies into one could better protect against bioterrorism and BSE. Compiled by staff

Published on: Apr 2, 2004

Who is in charge of inspecting food plants? Or regulating surveillance measures for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)? The answer is, sometimes more than one agency.

A new report issued by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) recommends that the federal food safety system should be restructured to contain everything under one agency. Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and 10 other agencies regulate food safety laws.

The GAO report explains the system that is in place today has been designed over time and formed in response to different health threats or economic crises. The report says the existing food safety statutes create fragmented jurisdictions between the two principal food safety agencies, the FDA and USDA. "As a result, there are inconsistencies in the frequency of the agencies' inspections of food facilities and the enforcement authorities available to these agencies," the report abstract explains.

Fundamental changes are needed, GAO claims. "First, there is a need to overhaul existing food safety legislation to make it uniform, consistent, and risk based," it says. "Second, consolidation of food safety agencies under a single independent agency or a single department is needed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the current federal food safety system."

The Bush administration opposes the idea, saying the multiple-agency approach works well, according to an article in the Washington Times.

To view the report, head to "Federal Food Safety and Security System: Fundamental Restructuring Is Needed to Address Fragmentation and Overlap".