February 12, 2009
On Tuesday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he would like to see a single food safety agency as opposed to the current system where food safety for the millions of Americans is overseen by two separate agencies, the USDA and the FDA. “We are the only industrial nation to have two systems,” said Secretary Vilsack, whose comments came in response to the recent peanut butter – salmonella outbreak, indicating that a single centralized agency in charge of protecting America’s food would be more successful in preventing food-borne illness.
In the current system, the FDA oversees the food safety for all domestic and imported food sold in interstate commerce, including shell eggs and bottled water, but not meat, poultry, or egg products. The USDA oversees the food safety for all domestic and imported meat and poultry, and related products such as meat or poultry containing stews, pizzas, and frozen foods, along with processed egg products (as soon as the shell is broken, it becomes the USDA’s responsibility). The total burden for food-borne illness is no small matter either, as every year it is estimated there are approximately 76 million food related illnesses, 323,000 hospitalizations, and 5,200 deaths.
Some of the big opponents to a centralized food safety agency include agribusiness, but more and more proponents, such as the Government Accountability Office, are emerging as indicated by the newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture. A long time proponent, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has proposed a bill to move the food safety responsibilities from the FDA to a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.