Do we really need another federal agency to regulate our lives? Some in Congress think so.
Democratic lawmakers in Washington proposed a bill yesterday that would create a new, independent food safety agency that would provide oversight and enforcement of food safety in the U.S. Called the Food Safety Act of 2015, this bill would bring together functions of the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and at least 13 other agencies currently overseeing different aspects of food regulation and safety.
Among other things, backers of this legislation want to consolidate food safety authority for inspections, enforcement and labeling; provide authority to recall unsafe food; and improve foreign food import inspections.
Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the sponsors of the bill, intend to elevate food safety to a national concern given the eating habits of Americans and the origins of the food Americans are consuming. According to them, food safety is not a high enough priority among Americans – not even at the FDA.
Apparently, 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) are expected to get sick from food-borne illnesses this year according to federal data. Of those 100,000 people will be hospitalized and thousands will die.
DeLauro and Durbin face opposition with a Republican-controlled Congress, but they are optimistic that by scaring up concern about food safety, they can get some of their conservative colleagues on board and create yet another behemoth super-agency.
The bill, introduced as the Safe Food Act of 2015, was co-sponsored by 10 other Democrats and aims to elevate food safety at a time when the U.S. food supply is increasingly sourced from abroad.
"The fragmented Federal food safety system and outdated laws preclude an integrated, system-wide approach to preventing foodborne illness," it says.
Currently most of the responsibility for food safety lies with the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees meat, poultry and processed eggs.
In January 2011, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law. The goal was to increase food safety by shifting the focus of regulators to preventing contamination rather than just responding to it. The lawmakers said their goal is to build on that.
They said greater public awareness of food safety makes this an opportune time to initiate change, though it would not happen overnight. They did not give an estimate of how much it would cost to create a single agency but said it would save money in the long run by improving efficiency.
If you’re skeptical about this new agency, you’re not alone. Whenever there’s a problem, Washington’s answer appears to be more money and greater regulation.
Our skepticism aside, what would what the food industry look like if this agency becomes a reality with the full powers ascribed to it in this bill? The stated goals of integrating functions and avoiding duplication of efforts and reducing time sound good. But what is the likelihood that all of these agencies would cede their authority to this new agency though?
What we’re seeing is an attempt to consolidate power and authority. With greater powers and enforcement capabilities, we can imagine this agency will turn up the heat on producers, distributors, and others who get our food from the ground, stable, or ocean to our local grocery store. We’re find with reasonable food safety laws, but this gargantuan department is not necessary.
And let's not gloss over the fact that they have yet to give us a price tag for creating this new agency. Will any savings from consolidation of efforts actually accrue? And do we need to add more to the federal bureaucracy
Washington, please leave our food alone.