Key Issues > Food Safety
agriculture icon, source: Art Explosion

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

 

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Pesticide Safety:

Improvements Needed in EPA's Good Laboratory Practices Inspection Program
GAO-14-289:
Published: May 15, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 2014.

Food Safety:

More Disclosure and Data Needed to Clarify Impact of Changes to Poultry and Hog Inspections
GAO-13-775:
Published: Aug 22, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 2013.

Food Safety:

FDA Can Better Oversee Food Imports by Assessing and Leveraging Other Countries' Oversight Resources
GAO-12-933:
Published: Sep 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2012.

Food Safety:

FDA's Food Advisory and Recall Process Needs Strengthening
GAO-12-589:
Published: Jul 26, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2012.

Seafood Safety:

Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA
GAO-12-411:
Published: May 10, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 8, 2012.

More Reports

USDA Farm Programs:

Recovery Act:

USDA Should Include Broadband Program's Impact in Annual Performance Reports
GAO-14-511:
Published: Jun 17, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2014.

Telecommunications:

USDA Should Evaluate the Performance of the Rural Broadband Loan Program
GAO-14-471:
Published: May 22, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2014.

School-Meals Programs:

USDA Has Enhanced Controls, but Additional Verification Could Help Ensure Legitimate Program Access
GAO-14-262:
Published: May 15, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 2014.

Alternative Jet Fuels:

U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Workforce Decisions Could Benefit from Better Linkage to Missions and Use of Leading Practices
GAO-14-288:
Published: Mar 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2014.

USDA Litigation:

Limited Data Available on USDA Attorney Fee Claims and Payments
GAO-14-458T:
Published: Mar 26, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2014.

International Food Aid:

Better Agency Collaboration Needed to Assess and Improve Emergency Food Aid Procurement System
GAO-14-22:
Published: Mar 26, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 26, 2014.

Capital Financing:

Alternative Approaches to Budgeting for Federal Real Property
GAO-14-239:
Published: Mar 12, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2014.

Telecommunications:

Federal Broadband Deployment Programs and Small Business
GAO-14-203:
Published: Feb 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2014.
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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