America's Food Safety Team: A Look at the Lineup

Article excerpt

America's Food Safety Team: A look at the Lineup

So there's a bug in your Brie. Understandably, you feel like telling someone, since the label didn't say anything about bugs. But who can help? Is it a wild bug or a domestic one? Does it swim? Was the Brie homemade or imported? Did the others at your party also get a bug in their Brie or were you the only lucky one? Is eating bugs good for you? Who's in charge here?

Responsibility for monitoring and regulating the origin, composition, quality, safety, weight, labeling, packaging, marketing and distribution of the food you eat and drink is shared by local, state, national and international government agencies. On these pages are condensed descriptions of the principal ones involved and a brief explanation of their roles and relationships.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Through inspection and grading, the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces standards for wholesomeness and quality of meat, poultry and eggs produced in the United States. USDA also is involved in nutrition research and in educating the public about how to choose and cook foods and how to manage healthy or restricted diets.

USDA food safety activities include inspecting poultry, eggs, and domestic and imported meat; inspecting livestock and production plants; and making quality (grading) inspections for grain, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and dairy products (including Brie and other cheeses). USDA's education programs target family nutritional needs, food safety, and expanding scientific knowledge. The department supports education with grants in food and agricultural sciences and conducts its own and cooperative food research.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)

ATF, an agency of the Department of the Treasury, is responsible for enforcing the laws that cover the production, distribution and labeling of alcoholic beverages, except wine beverages that contain less than 7 percent alcohol, which are the responsibility of FDA. ATF and FDA sometimes share responsibility in cases of adulteration, or when an alcoholic beverage contains food or color additives, pesticides or contaminants.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

A branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, CDC becomes involved as a protector of food safety, including responding to emergencies, when food-borne diseases are a factor. CDC surveys and studies environmental health problems. It directs and enforces quarantines, and it administers national programs for prevention and control of vector-born diseases (diseases transmitted by a host organism) and other preventable conditions.

Department of Justice

When the problem with a food is a violation of federal law, marshals from the Department of Justice are the agents who seize products. The Justice Department's attorneys take suspected violators of food safety laws to court.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Among its many duties, EPA regulates pesticides. It determines the safety of new pesticide products, sets tolerance levels for pesticide residues in foods, which FDA enforces, and it publishes directions for the safe use of pesticides.

EPA also establishes water quality standards, including the chemical content of drinking water. …