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WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) have introduced legislation that would create a single agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply.
The legislation, introduced last week, calls for the development of a Food Safety Administration and the implementation of a food safety program to standardize the food safety activities of America's food supply.
Under current law, food safety monitoring, inspection, and labeling functions are spread across 12 agencies in the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees meat, poultry, and egg products; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees most other food products; and the U.S. Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service, which inspects fish.
"Our current food safety system has turned into a food fight among more than 35 federal agencies," said Durbin. "This is politics at its worst where American families rightfully demand our best. Congress must summon the political will to protect America's families with a modern, coordinated food safety agency, and that's what we have set forth in [this] bill."
Durbin and DeLauro said the involvement of so many agencies can result in duplication of responsibilities, service gaps and inconsistencies, and confusion about which agency oversees different types of food. They noted that while FDA, which has jurisdiction over frozen cheese pizza, inspects cheese pizza processors once every 10 years on average, USDA, with responsibility over frozen pepperoni pizza, inspects such processors daily. In another example, eggs still in the shell are under the jurisdiction of FDA, while USDA takes over once the eggs are broken.
"For too long there has been uneven and unpredictable oversight of our food system -- leading in many cases to unexpected foodborne illness outbreaks, significant public health problems and, in certain instances, significant economic losses," said DeLauro, the co-chair of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus. "We can do much better by consolidating food safety into one single agency, where research, monitoring, risk assessment, and enforcement can be coordinated and improved."
Some of the responsibilities of the new agency that would be created by the lawmakers' bill -- dubbed the Food Safety Administration -- would include:
• Regular, but random, inspection of all food processing plants.
• Categorized review process for all foods to monitor and inspect them based on their risk, not their name.
• Increased oversight of imported foods.
• Established requirements for tracing foods to point of origin.
The Food Safety Administration would be comprised of approximately 14,250 people, moved from various departments. According to the 2004 enacted budget of the agencies, approximately $1.9 billion would be used for the creation of a new agency.
The lawmakers said that while it was unlikely that the bill would be acted upon by Congress this year, introduction of the legislation now will allow time for input from consumer advocates, food safety organizations, and others interested in the issue. Durbin and DeLauro said they would likely introduce the bill again next year shortly after Congress convenes.