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GAO Addresses Food Safety


The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently published the High-risk List incorporating 35 government programs and activities including the Federal Food Safety System in their March 6, 2019 edition. The report calls for the Executive Office of the President to develop a national strategy for food safety that establishes sustained leadership, identifies resource requirements and describe how progress will be monitored.  This recommendation was made in the previous high risk report in January 2017 without any action from the White House.


The GAO urges the Government to implement the Performance and Results Act (GRBA) as amended in 2010 to improve strategic and performance planning an interagency food safety collaboration. The  GAO suggested that Congress should direct the Executive Office of Management and Budget to develop performance plans relating to food safety and establish legislation to enable the Food Safety Working Group to improve coordination and leadership.


It is a matter of record that the GAO has called for a single Federal food safety agency combining activities of among others, the USDA-FSIS and the FDA in a single entity consistent with an alternative to the current organizational structure.


When consolidation is mooted, bureaucrats circle the wagons and agree to cooperate and interact.  In January 2018 the USDA and FDA agreed to a formal system of coordination and collaboration with respect to biotechnology.  An obvious example was establishing jurisdictional borders for tissue-culture derived “meat”.


The GAO considers that current agencies responsible for aspects of the Federal Food Safety System are operating without a single performance plan and without clearly defined monitoring of effectiveness.


It would be difficult given resistance to change and “turf” considerations to rearrange responsibility for food safety under a unified sub-cabinet agency equivalent to the status of the EPA.  The U.K. and the E.U. have established unified food safety authorities with benefits to consumers.  It took the national tragedy of 911 to create the Department of Homeland Security consolidating the activities of agencies and bureaus within diverse departments.  It is hoped that evolution towards a unified food safety agency could occur without a serious incident and would be the result of applying mature judgment and logic to a system which currently represents bureaucratic and political expediency.