Better Allocation of Resources Sought: Should the U.S. Have a Single Food Agency?

By Hunter, Beatrice Trum | Consumers' Research Magazine, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Better Allocation of Resources Sought: Should the U.S. Have a Single Food Agency?


Hunter, Beatrice Trum, Consumers' Research Magazine


For a century of federal food surveillance in the United States, the idea has been suggested, repeatedly, that responsibility for all food regulations should be grouped together in a single agency. This idea has waxed and waned with rhythmic regularity. At present, the idea is waxing, especially in the context of food safety control.

The Major Federal Food Surveillance Agencies. The two major agencies responsible for food safety are the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FDA is empowered to regulate most food and food safety issues. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates meat, poultry, and eggs. Each agency has its own set of regulations about label information. Each has separate powers for inspections, enforcements, and other legal actions. Each has various roles in food safety regulations. Each works with the U.S. Customs Service to inspect imported foods.

Within these major federal departments are subdivisions that are responsible for certain aspects of food safety. For example, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) coordinates research to ensure the health and care of animals and plants. The USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration establishes standards for grain quality and inspection. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service sets standards for meat, poultry, dairy foods, eggs, seafoods, and produce. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service conducts food research that includes food safety issues.

Similarly, the FDA has several subdivisions directly related to food safety issues, including its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Office of Food Labeling, Office of Pre-market Approval, Office of Seafood, and Center for Veterinary Medicine. From time to time, some subdivisions are consolidated or subsumed. At times, new subdivisions are created.

Additional Federal Agencies with Food Surveillance Responsibility. Other federal agencies share some responsibilities for the safety of the food supply. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the use of pesticides on food crops. Sometimes, this agency assumes unlikely authorities. For example, the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs conducts reviews of commercial antibacterial products intended for home use to kill pathogens such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli on raw produce. The EPA considers that antibacterial products are covered by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

The U.S. Department of Human Health and Services' Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducts surveillance and epidemiologic studies of foodborne illness outbreaks. The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service inspects and certifies seafood safety. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plays a role in preventing consumer deception about foods and beverages by monitoring advertisements and curbing false or misleading statements and unwarranted claims. The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms regulates alcoholic beverages. The U.S. Department of Commerce plays a role in food trade. Even the U.S. Department of Defense's Army Corp of Engineers, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are involved, along with other federal agencies, in efforts to regulate transgenic fish. The U.S. Army's Natick Research, Development, and Engineering Center in Natick, Mass., perfected freeze-dried food processing, and created "C," "K," and "T" rations, as well as Meals-Ready-to-Eat. The U.S. Army also is involved with food safety in feeding the troops, encompassed in its food service regulations.

Obviously, with so many agencies and departments responsible for various aspects of food safety and other food issues, there is overlap and inefficiency. Over time, divergent perspectives and perceived needs have evolved in different agencies and departments. …

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Better Allocation of Resources Sought: Should the U.S. Have a Single Food Agency?
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