Testimonies and Speeches
For Immediate
June 24, 1999

For more information:

  Statement of Caroline Smith DeWaal
Director of Food Safety at the

Introduction of the Safe Food Act of 1999

Dirksen Senate Office Building
June 24, 1999

Sometimes an idea is so simple that it causes a collective gasp among Washington insiders. The creation of a single food-safety agency is a concept that is both simple and long overdue for the American public. It is sure to be opposed by those beltway tycoons whose job it is to preserve their turf, regardless of its merits. But with the leadership of Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Tom Latham (R-IA), together with their colleagues, this opposition will surely be overcome.

Today the federal government spends over one billion dollars a year to support the numerous agencies and multiple bureaucracies that have a food-safety role. What if we took that money and gave it to one agency with a single purpose and a single mandate: to keep our food safe?

Thirty years ago, environmental protection was handled much as food safety is today, with a patchwork of federal programs, operated by numerous Departments. When our rivers and lakes were so filled with trash and hazardous chemicals that some actually burned, Congress and a Republican Administration created an agency to make our waters fishable and swimmable, and our air fit to breathe. Nearly thirty years later, one thing is clear: that single independent environmental protection agency has greatly improved the condition of the air and water, and better controls the disposal of hazardous chemicals.

Today, the problem affecting our families is not outside the front door but at dinner table. Foodborne hazards reach consumers from many sources: eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, even fruits and vegetables, each with its own patchwork of regulatory programs. With tens of millions of diarrheal illnesses and thousands of deaths from contaminated food each year, it is time for Congress to take action. Today we are wasting taxpayer’s money on a bucket brigade of federal agencies, when what we need is a targeted and effective federal response to food safety problems.

The National Academy of Sciences’ said that our current system “lacks direction from a single leader who can speak for the government when confronting food safety issues and providing answers to the public. . . . Leadership is needed to set priorities, deploy resources, and integrate a consistent policy into all levels of the system.” The Food Safety Act of 1999 is the answer to the Academy’s concern. A single leader, a single budget, a single agency. The time is now.

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