(Oct. 12) Calling for mandatory recall authority for both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, representatives of Washington, D.C.-based Consumers Union are lobbying for a single food safety agency.

“The system is broken. Recalls and inspections have failed miserably,” said Jean Halloran, the group’s director of food policy initiatives, in an Oct. 1 statement from the group, which also publishes Consumer Reports magazine.

“Clearly we need a single food agency with the tools, resources and leadership to focus on one clear mission — food safety,” Halloran said in the statement.

Meanwhile, one Washington lobbyist said Oct. 9 that Congress wants to do something on the food safety issue, but not all lawmakers are on board with wholesale revisions to agencies.

“There are a number of bills that have been introduced, and which one moves forward is a question,” said Ron Gaskill, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C.

“Certainly, Congress wants to have its opportunity to extract a pound of flesh from the (Bush) administration,” Gaskill said.

Whether current political dynamics result in legislation moving forward is perhaps a 50-50 proposition, he said.

“I’m not sure everyone is convinced there needs to be a major overhaul,” Gaskill said.

Gaskill said all lawmakers agree the FDA needs help, but going beyond that to a single food safety agency that will bring together the functions of the USDA and the FDA will be much harder. One factor that provides momentum toward a unified food safety agency is the difficulty the Department of Homeland Security has had in bringing together government functions under the new cabinet-level agency since 2003.

“All you have to do is bring up the Department of Homeland Security and everyone kind of ducks for cover, realizing how difficult it has been to consolidate an agency,” Gaskill said.

Even the issue of transferring Department of Homeland Security border inspectors back to the USDA is having an unintended consequence of repressing interest in moving to a single food safety agency, Gaskill said.