Food Safety:

Experiences of Four Countries in Consolidating Their Food Safety Systems

RCED-99-80: Published: Apr 20, 1999. Publicly Released: May 21, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the experiences of foreign countries that are consolidating their food safety responsibilities, focusing on the: (1) reasons for and approaches taken to consolidation, the costs and savings, if any, associated with consolidation, and efforts to assess the effectiveness of the revised food safety systems; and (2) lessons that the United States might learn from these countries' experiences in consolidating their food safety functions.

GAO noted that: (1) the reasons the four countries have consolidated, or are in the process of consolidating, their organizational responsibilities for food safety activities differed, as did the approaches they took; (2) however, all four countries had similar views regarding the costs and benefits of consolidation and the need to evaluate their consolidation efforts; (3) in deciding to consolidate food safety responsibilities, two of the countries--Great Britain and Ireland--were responding to public concerns about the safety of their food supplies and chose to consolidate responsibilities in the agencies that report to their ministers of health; (4) the other two countries--Canada and Denmark--were more concerned about program effectiveness and cost savings and consolidated activities in agencies that report to their ministers of agriculture, who already control most of the food safety resources; (5) all four countries are incurring short-term start-up costs in establishing their new agencies but are expecting long-term benefits in terms of money saved, more food safety for the money spent, and better assurance of food safety; (6) none of the countries had developed performance measures and data early in the consolidation process to assess the effectiveness of their new systems; (7) foreign officials identified several common lessons from their experiences that they believe could be broadly applicable to any U.S. consolidation effort; (8) in all four countries, a consensus had to be developed on the need to consolidate food safety responsibilities; (9) certain management initiatives were needed to establish any new agency; (10) adequate funding for start-up costs was also necessary; (11) furthermore, to help ensure the new agencies' early success, critical operational concerns, such as having the flexibility to shift program resources to the highest food safety priorities, establishing a common organizational culture, and ensuring openness in the decisionmaking process, were important factors that had to be addressed; and (12) evaluation criteria and mechanisms need to be established early in the process in order to assess the new agency's performance.

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