President Proposes Single Food Safety Agency

President Obama's proposal for the creation of a new federal agency solely focused on food safety in the fiscal year 2016 budget is drawing cheers and jeers from consumer advocacy and commodity groups, respectively.

The White House's proposal to consolidate the United States Department of Agriculture'sFood Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the food safety components of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create a single new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services comes on the heels of similar legislation proposed last week by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), called The Safe Food Act of 2015.

According to an overview of the President's 2016 budget, the new agency would be charged with pursuing a modern, science-based food safety regulatory regime drawing on best practices of both agencies. The proposed Safe Food Act, meanwhile, similarly seeks to consolidate parts of the USDA and the FDA to streamline inspections and eliminate unnecessary overlap.

The 2016 federal budget proposal goes on to describe the current system as “fragmented” and complicated by “disparate regulatory approaches,” with FDA overseeing eggs and seafood, but USDA presiding over processed egg products and catfish. “This division of responsibilities was not deliberately designed, but rather evolved as the Congress passed laws to address specific food safety concerns."

The National Consumers League (NCL) is among the consumer advocacy groups applauding the proposals. “Our current food systems are redundant and fragmented,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL executive director. “Consolidating USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service and FDA’s food safety oversight will ensure cohesive practices and superior response times in the event of an outbreak, ultimately keeping consumers and our food supply safer. We urge Congress to support the creation of a new food safety agency.”

Meanwhile, leaders from various commodity groups are concerned that the President’s consolidated food safety agency proposal and related changes would hinder implementation of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), passed by Congress in 2010. The Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers Association is among those which believe an agency reorganization would pose a “major distraction” as the industry works to implement final FSMA rules during the next few years.

Other groups that oppose the proposal include Northwest Horticultural Council, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the latter of which is concerned about profound disruptions in the food supply monitoring and inspection process while mandating “a burdensome process that could threaten the progress made on beef safety and future protection of public health.”

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