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For Immediate
August 20, 1998

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Calls for Single Person to be in Charge of Federal Food-Safety Efforts

In a report released today, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) documented that, short of the President of the United States, no one person is really in charge of the safety of the nation’s food supply. Today, food-safety responsibilities are spread between numerous Federal agencies with conflicting missions and responsibilities, resulting in uneven coverage and enforcement, according to the Academy.

While the Academy’s Committee did not come to a full consensus on the need for a single food-safety agency to replace the current antiquated system, the Committee report said, "Many members of the Committee are of the view that the most viable means of achieving these goals would be to create a single, unified agency headed by a single administrator." Currently, at least 12 Federal agencies implement 35 food-safety statutes.

The Committee did call for the appointment of an "identifiable, high-ranking, presidentially-appointed head, who would direct and coordinate federal activities and speak to the nation, giving federal food safety efforts a single voice." However, the report said that it is critical the person should have both legal authority and budgetary control for food safety, and therefore it did not back the creation of a White House-based food-safety ‘czar.’

"The National Academy of Sciences has provided the strongest evidence yet of the weakness of the current food-safety system," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s food safety director. "With new food-safety hazards on the horizon, it is urgent that the White House and Congress move quickly to implement the recommendations in the report and to fully fund the agencies currently responsible for food safety."

The National Academy of Sciences stressed the need for better science and clearer statutory mandates in conjunction with a more streamlined system to correct the current deficiencies. The report said that the current legal structure for food safety is based on laws that are "inconsistent, uneven, and at times archaic." It said these laws "inhibit use of science-based decision-making."

The current statutes have been developed since the beginning of the century but have never been comprehensively updated to address changing conditions. Other countries are also developing more unified food-safety systems, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

"The US can no longer afford a system that works better for Washington power brokers and bureaucrats than it does for American consumers," said DeWaal. "Hopefully, the NAS study will show Congress how urgent the problems have become."

Representative Vic Fazio (D-CA) was the major proponent of funding for the NAS study, Ensuring Food Safety From Farm to Table, with the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In addition, Representative Fazio and Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Torricelli (D-NJ) have sponsored legislation, the Safe Food Act (S. 1465, HR 2801), which would create the Federal Food Safety Administration, an independent agency that will consolidate and streamline the food-safety functions of the Federal government. CSPI coordinates the Recipe for Safe Food, which supports the Food Safety Enforcement Enhancement Acts (S. 1264, HR 3070), the Safety of Imported Foods Act (HR 3052), the Imported Food Safety Act (HR 4080), and the Consumer Food Safety Act (HR 3676).

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