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Support for an Independent Food Safety Agency Gathers Momentum

07/21/2022

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have sponsored the Food Safety Administration Act with additional co-sponsers including Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and five Representatives.  This legislation is endorsed by the Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, STOP Foodborne Illness, and the Center for Environmental Health, all of which can be regarded as moderate and mission-focused.

 

The motivation for the Act recognizes numerous deficiencies in the FDA despite liberal funding, suggesting that lack of money is not the basic deficiency.  Recent problems include:-

  • Failure to recognize and respond proactively and aggressively to the prescription opioid crisis,
  • Tardiness in developing regulations to limit use and abuse of E-cigarette products by minors,
  • Failure to detect and respond to heavy metal contamination of baby food and juices
  • The inadequate development of the Final Rule to prevent Salmonella in Eggs with subsequent field implementation that proved to be unprofessional, inappropriate and uduly expensive. 
  • Delay in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act
  • Failure to identify the long-term contamination of infant formula with Cronobacter resulting in illnesses, wide-scale inconvenience and political embarrassment for the Administration.
  • Failure to address the sequence of foodborne infections attributed to leafy greens and produce
  • Delay in addressing and regulating antibiotic use in livestock production

 

The proposed legislation would establish a single food agency separate from the current FDA with leadership appointments requiring Senate confirmation. The intent is to move the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Office of Regulatory Affairs to a separate entity apart from the FDA within the Department of Health and Human Services. This will be analogous to moving deck chairs from the port side of the Titanic to the starboard side.  The deficiency in the proposed legislation is that it fails to recognize the dual jurisdictions of the current Food and Drug Administration and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection service, responsible for red meat and poultry.  Foodborne episodes caused by either pathogens or contaminants should be prevented by a single entity. The proposed food safety agency should have complete jurisdiction as recommended by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences and by numerous commentators including EGG-NEWS and CHICK-NEWS that have advocated a single U.S. dedicated entity for over five years analagous to agencies in the E.U. and the U.K.

 

Establishing a U.S. food safety agency would allow for an appropriate organizational structure with staffing by competent administrators and scientists free from the current restraints in FDA that emphasize pharmaceuticals and biologics over food. Rep. DeLauro commented, “Food safety is currently a second class citizen of the Food and Drug Administration.”  Her additional statement that, “Right now there are no food policy experts in charge of food safety at the FDA” is only partly correct.  The FDA appointed Frank Yiannas to the position of Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Responsibility. He is an acknowledged expert in the field and has considerable commercial experience. His is a staff position without defined authority and arcording to reports is sequestered by line administrators to the detriment of the Agency.  Investigation of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition demonstrated profound deficiencies in leadership, organization and staffing, impacting effectiveness.

 

Admittedly, separating food safety from the existing FDA would be a step forward, but the intended action will fall short of the ultimate objective of seamless oversight of food safety. Washington abhors major jurisdictional changes.  Following the September 11th attack, the Department of Homeland Security came into existence, incorporating the functions of related agencies to the benefit of our national wellbeing.  By the same token the U.S. is facing a slow motion disaster through deterioration in food safety that could be addressed by a radical reorganization. To be other than “more of the same” would require merger of the food safety responsibilities of the current FSIS and the FDA.  Salmonella adulteration whether in ice cream,  eggs or on broiler meat is still Salmonella.  Although sources may be different, the implications for consumers are similar.  The appropriate disciplines including epidemiology, food science, analytical chemistry and microbiology are common to developing meaningful rules and guidance documents, conducting field investigations and regulating manufacturing and distribution of food irrespective of vehicles of infection.  If an administrative change is considered desirable, then a single and comprehensive restructuring of the FDA and FSIS and their merger to create an independent  agency analagous to the EPA will be required to correct existing deficiencies and establish a more secure future. But Naah, we have lobbyists!