Photo via Daylife
As it stands, the US food safety system is something of a bureaucratic mess: through an awkward process, 20% of our food gets inspected by the Department of Agriculture, and the other 80% by the FDA. Within the two departments, there are over 10 different agencies responsible for regulation. And the FDA is underfunded, inefficient, a little shady, and must also oversee drugs and medicine. What we get here is a failure to communicate--and one possible result? Salmonella-laden peanut butter gets sold in stores and kills nine people. To try to ensure that doesn't happen again, the new Secretary of Agriculture wants to streamline the fractured system—and create a single agency that handles food safety exclusively.Our Absurd Food Safety System
Here's just how absurd our current system is: different frozen pizzas get inspected by different agencies. NPR pointed out the strange situation in a recent radio piece:
Among the items found in most supermarkets' frozen food aisles are frozen pizzas — a perfect illustration of the regulatory quandary. Pizzas with meat on them — and the plants where they are made — are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But plain cheese pizzas are inspected by a wholly different federal agency: the Food and Drug Administration.
Hardly seems to make sense. There's no set system setup between the two departments either—which can lead to disgusting, rogue peanut butter plants going unregulated. So, spurred by the embarrassing and tragic peanut butter oversight, the new agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack is hoping to build a more efficient food safety system. From NPR:
"The time is right for us to modernize our system … into a single agency so that there is not the risk of something falling through the cracks when it's unclear about which agency has jurisdiction or it's unclear as to whether or not one agency is communicating with the other agency about what they're finding," he said.
Creating a Department of Food Safety
So how would this new agency come about? Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLuaro has an idea: splitting up the FDA.
"If you separate out the food safety functions, you will create a food safety agency, you would have a drug and device agency," she said. "The president would nominate an administrator for each, confirmed by the Senate, [each with its] own budget, its own resources to move forward."
Imagine that. An efficient way to protect Americans from errant, disease ridden food products and factories. Maybe then the FDA would have enough time to make better rulings; ones that don't include BPA being safe for babies. I'll believe it when I see it.