Food safety oversight of the produce industry would be moved from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a government overhaul plan unveiled by the White House.
Among other proposed reforms, the 132-page plan argues for a unified food safety agency within the USDA called the Federal Food Safety Agency.
“This consolidation will give USDA the clear mandate, dedicated budget, and full responsibility it needs for optimal oversight of the entire U.S. food supply,” according to the document.
For more than 40 years, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has recommended that federal government consolidate food safety functions in a single agency, but proposals to make the idea a reality have never gained traction.
The White House said a single agency would provide better food safety outcomes and improved efficiency, according to the release.
“This consolidation will give USDA the clear mandate, dedicated budget, and full responsibility it needs for optimal oversight of the entire U.S. food supply,” according to the plan. “Resources at the FDA will be freed up to focus on its core responsibilities of drugs, devices, biologics, and tobacco.”
The White House cited Government Accountability Office analysis that concluded current fragmented federal oversight of food safety “has caused inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service and the FDA are the two primary agencies with major responsibilities for regulating food and the substances, with the FSIS responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish, while FDA is responsible for all other foods, including fresh produce, seafood and shelled eggs.
“While the FDA and FSIS currently have very different regulatory regimes, consolidating FSIS and the food safety functions of FDA would allow for a better allocation of resources based on risk, better communication during illness outbreaks, and improved policy and program planning through development of a single strategic plan,” the plan said.
In February last year, when the GAO repeated its recommendation for a unified food safety agency, Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, said efforts to create single oversight agency for food safety could involve a lot of time and bureaucracy but with little payoff.
“There would be a lot of difficulty getting there, and I don’t think it will substantially improve public health,” she said at the time.