Need To Reassess Food Inspection Roles Of Federal Organizations

B-168966: Published: Jun 30, 1970. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1970.

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This report presents the results of our review of the roles of Federal organizations involved in inspecting food. Our review was made pursuant to the Budget and Accounting Act, 1921 (31 U.S.C. 53); the Accounting and Auditing Act of 1950 (31 U.S.C. 67); and the authority of the Comptroller General to examine contractors' records, as set forth in 10 U.S.C. 2313(b). Before acceptance by the Government or distribution to the public, food is generally subject to inspection by two or more organizations. Because of apparent overlapping of Federal food inspection activities, the Genera Accounting Office (GAO) made a Government-wide review.

Federal food inspection started in 1891. The function evolved from piecemeal legislation and regulations designed to solve specific problems as they arose. Because of their relatively limited scope, the laws and related regulations do not provide a clear expression of overall Federal policy for food inspection. As a result, parts of the food inspection function are performed by many Federal, State, and local organizations. This has led to some inspection overlap and to problems in making inspections and has caused dissatisfaction in the food industry. GAO conservatively estimated that over 14,500 people were involved in Federal food inspection activities which were costing over $185 million annually. About $48 million of this amount was reimbursed by the users of certain inspection services. Similar inspection activities are frequently performed by mere than one organization at the same commercial establishment and often on the same food product. Many of the inspections are made for different purposes and vary in degree. However, GAO believes that a more effective and economical method of discharging the Federal food inspection function could be devised. Several Federal organizations have established food standards, some for the same item. This creates a need for close coordination which in practice appears to be a lengthy process. Although more than one standard for the same food item may not be improper in itself, it has caused dissatisfaction among food suppliers. For example, the Departments of Agriculture and Defense tested the same lot of smoked hams. Because of the use of different product standards and testing methods, these hams met Defense requirements but did not meet Agriculture standards for moisture content. Agreements have been made between organizations to establish clearer lines of responsibility, make more effective use of the skills and experience of each, and reduce overlap. To reach agreements has been time consuming. Moreover, the agreements sometimes have been difficult to administer and, in some cases, have led to further difficulties. Accordingly, GAO believes that a more effective system for discharging food inspection responsibilities--involving changes in existing legislation where necessary--would reduce, or eliminate, the need for such agreements. There are basic differences in the concepts and practices of the inspecting organizations. GAO believes that maximum standardization in requirements, procedures, and concepts is desirable and would enable inspections to be made more effectively and economically. GAO believes that there is a need to reassess the Federal role in food inspection and the participation of the various organizations that currently perform parts of the function so as to arrive at sound recommendations for improvement. This reassessment--involving as it does sensitive relationships between the numerous Federal, State and local governmental agencies and the food industry--should be conducted under the leadership of the Bureau of the Budget.

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