Fragmented Food Safety

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is right to be worried about the vulnerability of America's food supply to terrorist attack. But bioterrorism isn't the only, or even the greatest, threat to the safety of the nation's food.

Seventy-six million Americans suffer from food-borne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Yet the food safety system in the United States remains a hodgepodge of fragmented regulatory responsibilities, antiquated laws and self-interested manipulation by food industry lobbying groups.

Concerned about cows? Call the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Concerned about cow's milk? That's regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Which comes first, protecting chickens (USDA) or eggs (FDA)? Who ya gonna call about frozen pepperoni pizza? The USDA, of course. But they'll have to transfer you to the FDA if the problem is with a frozen cheese pizza. Direct your seafood safety questions to the Department of Commerce.

The implications here are obvious. What's good for intelligence operations and homeland security would also be good for protecting the nation's food supply: a unified food safety agency that combined reporting, inspection and regulatory functions from "farm to fork" under one umbrella. …