Bush administration urged to give one agency on-farm authority

Many government agencies monitor food, but no federal agency is in charge of food-safety practices on America’s farms, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI today urged the Administration and Congress to make one agency responsible for improving food-safety practices on the farm, where harmful pathogens can contaminate livestock, fruit, and vegetables.

“No government agency has the responsibility for improving food safety on the farm,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director for CSPI. “Food-safety practices have to start where food itself starts—on farms. But even though new farming technologies could make for safer food, the government does little to get farmers and ranchers to use them.”

Food-safety responsibilities are split between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The resulting regulatory gaps are most evident on farms, says CSPI, where better regulation is most urgently needed. For instance, while USDA regulates chickens, the FDA regulates eggs. But neither agency monitors or regulates on-farm practices that might reduce the risk of Salmonella in eggs.

In the letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, CSPI also urged the Administration to:

  • Commission a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study of new on-farm safety methods. In 1990, Congress directed USDA to commission the NAS to study of animal care and disease prevention strategies, but USDA refused to fund it.
  • Adopt new regulations to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in eggs. Such regulations have been pending since 2000 but haven’t been adopted, despite widespread support.
  • Increase federal research to develop on-farm approaches like competitive exclusion, immunizations, bacteriophages, sanitation strategies, and improved transportation.

Existing research already shows how modifying animal diets, reducing animal stress, and improving on-farm hygiene may reduce contamination. For instance, grass feeding or feed additives may be able to inhibit E. coli 0157:H7 in beef cattle, says CSPI. And not using untreated manure to fertilize fields can lower the risk of contaminated produce.

“A growing number of food poisoning outbreaks are linked to fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which carry the same hazards that are linked to animals,” DeWaal said. “Better controls on the farm are urgently needed if we are to reverse this trend.”

CSPI is sponsoring a conference, Clean Plants, Healthy Animals: On-Farm Solutions to Food Safety Problems, on October 2 at the National Press Club in Washington. Speakers include former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin, Robert Buchanan from FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and other national and international officials.

Note: Registration for CSPI’s upcoming Clean Plants, Healthy Animals will take place on-site at the National Press Club beginning at 7 a.m.