Fight for Food Safety
FSIS, FDA should merge
Creating a single food-safety agency under FSMA rules would eliminate redundancy.
We have heard a lot lately about government funding shortfalls, and the impact it is having on the ability of many agencies to fulfill their responsibilities. The White House stopped giving tours, the military began cancelling parades and airshows, the FAA threatened to close air-traffic control towers, and a whole host of national programs were scaled back or eliminated entirely.
In a nation scrambling to save money (or, spend less), oversight of our food supply would be a good place to focus. The Government Accountability Office, for instance, recently identified as many as 15 federal agencies collectively administering at least 30 federal laws relating to food safety. Agencies include the FDA, USDA, FSIS, EPA, FTC, and many more. The redundancy and waste is obvious.
Such inefficiencies have become even more apparent with the passage of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It used to be that the laws applicable to the meat and poultry industries and all other foods were vastly different. In order to operate legally, for instance, meat companies were required to have HACCP programs — while most other food companies were exempt. Meat companies were also required to operate under continuous federal inspection, while all other, FDA-regulated food companies could operate for years without a single visit from a government inspector.
That has all changed. FSMA now represents the largest expansion of FDA’s food-safety authority since the 1930s. At its core, FSMA requires that all FDA-regulated companies develop and implement written food-safety plans. Companies are also required to keep records, demonstrate that their plans are capable of controlling food hazards, and reassess those plans on a regular basis. In turn, the FDA is increasing the frequency of inspections to ensure compliance. One of the challenges facing FSMA, however, is where FDA will find the army of new inspectors to effectively accomplish these goals.
So, can we solve these problems by merging FDA and FSIS into a single food-safety agency? FSMA merely imposes many of the same requirements in the meat industry (such as HACCP) to all other foods. FSIS also employs more than 9,000 workers (approximately 8,000 of whom work in roughly 6,300 slaughter and processing plants nationwide) enforcing HACCP and other requirements on a daily basis. With the effectiveness of HACCP in the meat industry, it is reasonable to ask whether daily federal inspection by scores of FSIS inspectors in slaughter and processing facilities is really still needed.
If FDA and FSIS were combined into a single agency, many FSIS inspectors could be withdrawn from meat plants, and then tasked with conducting routine inspections of ALL federally regulated food-processing plants. Many of these inspectors are already trained in HACCP, and could be assigned the responsibility of verifying any plant’s adherence to its HACCP program, the standards for sanitary conditions, ingredient levels and packing, and to occasionally conduct microbiological sampling.
So, can we kill two cows with one stone? I think so. By combining FDA and FSIS (and others) into a single food-safety agency, we can modernize of food-safety system and save money doing it as well.