By Casey Wooten
Democratic lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to streamline food-safety programs across federal agencies, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office.
A GAO report released Feb. 13 found that federal agencies have reduced fragmentation in food-safety oversight, but more needs to be done. High-level administration officials should set out a plan to increase collaboration among agencies, the report said.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) jumped on the findings. They called the dozen-plus agencies administering food safety a “fragmented legal and organizational structure,” in a letter sent to President Donald Trump.
“The safety and quality of the U.S. food system is governed by a highly complex system that has evolved on a piecemeal basis over many decades, typically in response to either health threats or economic crises,” the letter, released Feb. 14, said.
The letter and GAO report are the latest developments in a long-fought campaign to reorganize the federal food-safety system—an effort that hasn’t gotten much legislative traction. In the previous Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Durbin unsuccessfully pushed the Safe Food Act, with companion bills that would have unified food-safety oversight under a single entity.
The senators’ letter pointed to the complex web of jurisdictions in the food-safety system, ranging from Agriculture Department agencies like the Food Safety and Inspection Service, to Department of Health and Human Services agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For example, frozen pepperoni pizza must meet USDA and FDA standards, while frozen cheese pizza falls only under FDA oversight, the distinction being the lack of meat.
In their letter, the lawmakers called on the Trump administration to establish a national strategy to address shortcomings in the food-safety system, create a performance plan that adheres to the recommendations in the GAO report and to work with Congress on any legislative requirements to overhaul food-safety programs.
The GAO noted in its report that the USDA disagreed with its call for a broad strategy, saying the department wasn’t convinced the plan would improve the prevention of food-borne illnesses.
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