Everything anyone eats in America is regulated by a federal agency. Whether this oversight is necessary is questionable. Indeed, it may seem that there may be too much regulation by one agency and not another. Or perhaps, the whole bloated bureaucratic process needs to be revisited. It definitely seems the case when it comes to food regulation and the federal agencies that are in charge of overseeing very specific parts of the American consumer food category.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees nearly 78% of the U.S. food supply including “dairy, produce, spices, nuts, cereals, flour, legumes, fruit [and] vegetable juices, vegetarian entrees” among other products. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of regulating meat, poultry and egg products.
Now this can get quite confusing. For example, in the realm of eggs: While it would make sense for an agricultural agency to oversee farmers’ egg supplies, it is the FDA that “inspects shelled eggs” and is responsible for regulating the feed that egg-laying chickens eat. In fact, in 2020, the FDA issued new regulations for “virtually all egg producers with 3,000 or more laying eggs” to prevent salmonella.
Meanwhile, regarding eggs, the USDA regulates poultry products including chickens and products containing eggs. USDA also oversees the facilities that house the FDA-inspected eggs. Don’t worry, it’s confusing to everyone else as well.
But it’s also evidence of the massive role that the FDA plays in Americans’ lives. What began as agency borne out of an era of progressivism, has morphed in a federal powerhouse that influences nearly all choices consumers make.
The 1906 Federal Food and Drug Act essentially established the FDA, transforming the then-USDA Department of Chemistry to a new agency that “was given the regulatory responsibilities to prevent adulteration and misbranding of food and drugs.” In 1938, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) was passed, which brought more products–including cosmetics and medical devices—under the FDA’s authority, as well as mandating “premarket approval of new drugs.”
Since then, many amendments have been made to the FD&C, adding dyes, pesticides, preservatives and more under the FDA’s realm of authority. Today, the FDA is in charge of food products’ nutrition labels, ingredients and packaging and others. As of March 15, 2022, the FD&C Act is 871 pages long.
While under the guise of protecting consumers, the FDA does make it an arduous process to bring new products to market. The FDA is even quick to inform budding food entrepreneurs that “there are many regulatory requirements.”
Either way, FDA authority over food policy is wonky at best and its burdensome regulations may actually act as a hindrance for consumers. Rather than adding more pages to 1930’s legislation – which was recently amended this past March—Congress ought to revisit whether FDA is protecting consumers.