Congressional Leaders Call for Single Food Safety Agency

CSPI Supports Effort to Modernize Food Safety Laws


WASHINGTON—Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today introduced legislation to put all food safety responsibilities under a single new Food Safety Administrator. The Safe Food Act also would modernize the 100-year old food safety laws, and give the new chief a unified budget. The legislation is supported by the nonprofit food safety and nutrition watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The government’s finite food safety resources are not equitably split between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Bush Administration’s 2008 budget proposal makes matters worse, according to CSPI. USDA regulates 20 percent of the nation’s food supply, and the Administration proposes giving the department $270 million in new money for food safety and security. FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, including fresh vegetables like spinach and lettuce, but it will get only $10.6 million in new food safety money, despite being underfunded already.

“The Bush food safety budget defies logic,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “While the budget clearly recognizes the need for more funding for food safety, money is being directed at animal health problems and meat and poultry at the expense of preventing outbreaks from fresh produce.”

The Safe Food Act would create a Food Safety Administration, similar to the Environmental Protection Agency, that would take responsibility for food safety and labeling from USDA and FDA. The bill would also establish a comprehensive program to protect public health and bolster consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply. Currently, food safety monitoring, inspection, and labeling functions are spread across 12 federal agencies.

“It makes no sense to have one agency regulate chickens and another regulate eggs, or to have one agency regulate cows and another to regulate milk,” said CSPI food safety staff attorney Ken Kelly. “When one cabinet secretary is responsible for pepperoni pizza and another is responsible for cheese pizza, you know something’s wrong.”

The Safe Food Act would consolidate the activities of various federal agencies responsible for the nation's food supply including USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The bill also includes a traceback provision, gives the new agency recall authority, and requires more frequent inspections to help prevent future E. coli outbreaks.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently designated food safety as one of the high risk federal government programs. Agriculture, including all food production, is about 13 percent of the gross domestic product, and the largest industry in the U.S., according to GAO.

Unsafe food poses a significant burden on consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Children and the elderly are most likely to experience severe cases of illness and death from foodborne pathogens. Outbreaks, like the one that occurred last fall from tainted spinach, can easily exceed $100 million in damages to both victims and the industry.