Key Issues > Food Safety
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Food Safety

The patchwork nature of the federal oversight of food safety calls into question whether the government can plan more strategically to inspect food production processes, identify and react more quickly to any outbreaks of contaminated food, and focus on achieving results to promote the safety and integrity of the nation’s food supply.

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The fragmented federal oversight of food safety has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources. A total of 15 federal agencies oversee at least 30 food-safety-related laws. The two primary agencies are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for virtually all other foods. New food safety legislation that was signed into law in January 2011 strengthens a major part of the food safety system. It shifts the focus of FDA regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it, according to FDA. While the law has several provisions that require interagency collaboration on food safety oversight, it does not apply to the federal food safety system as a whole.

 

Fishery products, including wild catch, aquaculture, and processed fish products, are one of the most traded commodities in the world today. More than half of this commodity originates in developing countries, and almost 75 percent of it ends up either in the European Union, Japan, or the United States. Not only is the United States importing more of the seafood it consumes today than it did 10 years ago, but more of those imports are from fish farms. Currently the United States imports 84 percent of the seafood consumed, and about 50 percent of it is from aquaculture. Figure 1 shows proportion of imports to the United States from the top six countries exporting seafood to the United States.

 

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from animals and cause disease in humans through a number of pathways. Unsanitary conditions at slaughter plants and unsafe food handling practices could allow bacteria to survive on meat products and reach a consumer. Resistant bacteria may also spread to fruits, vegetables, and fish products through soil, well water, and water runoff contaminated by fecal matter from animals harboring these bacteria. If the bacteria are disease-causing, the consumer may develop an infection that is resistant to antibiotics.

Figure 1: Top Six U.S. Seafood Import Sources in 2009

Figure 2: Potential Pathways for Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria from Animals to Humans

Potential Pathways for Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria from Animals to Humans

 

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  • portrait of John Neumann
    • John Neumann
    • Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • neumannj@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-3841
  • portrait of Steve Morris
    • Steve Morris
    • Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • morriss@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-3841