USDA Wrong Place to Consolidate Food Safety, Says CSPI

Agency's Boosterism Role at Odds with Health & Safety, Committee Told


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture would be the wrong place to consolidate all food safety functions, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. While CSPI does want a unified food safety agency, it says a trial balloon floated by the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee should be popped before it advances.

“Consumers cannot trust the USDA to take on the huge responsibility of managing the entire food safety system, when that agency lacks a public health mission and a consistent record of improvement for the meat and poultry it currently regulates,” CSPI wrote today to Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN).

CSPI filed written testimony with the committee, which is holding a hearing today, urging passage of the Safe Food Act. That bill, authored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would consolidate the food safety functions of USDA, FDA, and other government agencies into an independent Food Safety Administration.

“A food safety agency should be strong and independent, and that is not what we would get if it were placed at that Department of Agriculture, the nation’s booster club for American agricultural products,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “During the last few years, the Secretary of Agriculture has spent far more time trying to convince Japan to buy U.S. beef then he has on ensuring that that beef is free of contamination.”

In the meantime, Congress should give the Food and Drug Administration an equal and proportionate share of food safety dollars to ensure it can more effectively manage the food safety risks from fresh produce, processed food and the imported foods it regulates, says CSPI. While USDA regulates only 20 percent of the food supply, it gets two-thirds of food-safety budget and has ten times the number of inspectors as FDA. FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, and these products cause the lion’s share of food safety problems. The Bush Administration’s 2008 budget proposal does nothing to solve the problem by requesting FDA receive only $10.6 million in new money, while USDA gets $268 million in increased funding, including $164 million for the “Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative.”

“We need a food safety budget based on science and common sense—and not one based on politics, turf, and laws that predate the Model T,” DeWaal said.

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