Food Safety:

A Unified, Risk-Based System Needed to Enhance Food Safety

T-RCED-94-71: Published: Nov 4, 1993. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 1993.

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GAO discussed the federal food safety system and whether it should be revised. GAO noted that: (1) the existing food safety system costs $1 billion annually and does not effectively protect the public from foodborne illnesses; (2) system development has been piecemeal in response to specific health threats from particular food products and has not responded to changing health risks; (3) food safety improvements have been hampered by inflexible and outdated inspection methods, inconsistent oversight and enforcement authorities, inefficient use of resources, and ineffective coordination; (4) visual inspection methods do not detect microbial contamination in meat and poultry; (5) fundamental legislative and structural changes are needed to improve the food safety system, since regulatory agencies operate under different regulatory approaches; (6) the creation of a single food safety agency responsible for administering a uniform set of laws is the most effective way to deal with long-standing problems and emerging food safety issues and ensure a safe food supply; (7) a single regulatory agency will increase efficiency, consistently treat food products that pose similar health risks, target resources to areas of greatest need, and reduce costs; (8) the National Performance Review recommends that all food safety functions be transferred to the Food and Drug Administration; and (9) the success of a single regulatory agency will depend on a clear commitment to consumer protection, adequate resources, competent and aggressive administration of the law, and the absence of conflicting interests.

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