The safety of the U.S. food supply is governed by a highly complex system of more than 30 laws administered by 12 agencies. In light of the recent focus on government reorganization, it is time to ask whether the current system can effectively and efficiently respond to today's challenges. At the request of the Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, we reviewed and summarized our work on the safety and security of the food supply regarding (1) the fragmented legal and organizational structure of the federal food safety system, (2) the consequences of overlapping and inconsistent inspection and enforcement, and (3) options for consolidating food safety functions.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|To provide more efficient, consistent, and effective federal oversight of the nation's food supply, Congress may wish to consider enacting comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.||Several food safety bills have been introduced in Congress that would provide a more efficient, consistent, and effective oversight of the nation's food supply. The Senate-passed version of the omnibus farm bill (H.R. 2419)would establish a Congressional Bipartisan Food Safety Commission to recommend statutory changes to modernize the food safety system and ways to harmonize food safety requirements across agencies. The language provides extensive guidance on commission membership and on the programs to be examined, sets timelines for completion, and provides $3 million annually in funding. owever, as of September 2008, Congress had yet to passes any of these bills. In addition, H.R. 1148/S. 654 also would authorize a new food safety system to be based on a comprehensive analysis of food hazards. They would require the registration and regular inspections of all establishments (except farms, fishing vessels that do not process food, and retail establishments), which would have to follow process controls tied to science and health-based regulations, including performance standards.|
|To provide more efficient, consistent, and effective federal oversight of the nation's food supply, Congress may wish to consider establishing a single, independent food safety agency at the Cabinet level.||Congress is considering several bills that would establish a single, independent food safety agency. H.R. 1148 and S. 654 Safe Food Act of 2007 (DeLauro/Durbin). These bills would establish a new independent Food Safety Administration to administer and enforce all federal food safety laws. The bill would require: (1) a national food safety program based on an analysis of the food hazards; (2) standards for processors of food and food establishments; (3) a certification system for foreign governments or food establishments seeking to import food; (4) a system for tracing food and food producing animals from point of origin to retail sale; (5) maintaining an active surveillance system of food, food products, and epidemiological evidence; (6) a sampling program to monitor contaminants in food; (7) an analysis of hazards in the food supply; (8) a national public education campaign on food safety; and (9) research relating to food safety.|
|If the Congress does not opt for an entire reorganization of the food safety system, it may wish to consider modifying existing laws to designate one current agency as the lead agency for all food safety inspection matters.||As of September 2008, Congress had not opted for an entire reorganization of the food safety system, but is considering the establishment of a Congressional Bipartisan Food Safety Commission to recommend statutory changes to modernize the food safety system and ways to harmonize food safety requirements across agencies (H.R. 2419). The recommendations of such commission could include designating one current agency as the lead agency for all food safety inspection matters.|