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WASHINGTON - Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced legislation yesterday to put all food safety responsibilities under a single new Food Safety Administrator. The Safe Food Act the proposed would also modernize the 100-year old food safety laws, and give the new food safety chief a unified budget.
The Safe Food Act would create a Food Safety Administration, similar to the Environmental Protection Agency, that would take over responsibility for food safety and labeling from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which currently split the duty.
The bill would also establish a comprehensive program to protect public health and bolster consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply. Currently, food safety monitoring, inspection, and labeling functions are spread across 12 federal agencies.
The legislation is supported by a variety of industry trade groups, incuding the Food Marketing Institute; and consumer watchdog groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumers Union.
The government's finite food safety resources are not equitably split between the USDA and the FDA, and the Bush Administration's 2008 budget proposal makes matters worse, according to CSPI. USDA regulates 20 percent of the nation's food supply, and the administration proposes giving the department $270 million in new money for food safety and security. FDA regulates 80 percent of the food supply, including fresh vegetables like spinach and lettuce, but will get only $10.6 million in new food safety money.
"The Bush food safety budget defies logic," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's director of food safety. "While the budget clearly recognizes the need for more funding for food safety, money is being directed at animal health problems and meat and poultry at the expense of preventing outbreaks from fresh produce."
The Safe Food Act would consolidate the activities of various federal agencies responsible for the nation's food supply including USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service.
The bill also includes a traceback provision, gives the new agency recall authority, and requires more frequent inspections to help prevent future E. coli outbreaks.
The Government Accountability office (GAO) recently designated food safety as one of the high-risk federal government programs. Agriculture, including all food production, is about 13 percent of the gross domestic product, and the largest industry in the U.S., according to GAO.