Congress, FDA Must Focus on Preventing Outbreaks

Recent food safety outbreaks and recalls show clearly that it is time to move to the creation of a single strong food safety agency.  It shouldn't be housed in USDA, an agency whose marketing and promotion missions dominate their agenda.  It shouldn't be housed at FDA, where it would continue to play second fiddle to drugs.  We need exactly the kind of Food Safety Adminsitration that Senator Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representative DeLauro (D-Conn.) have long championed.

Today, the Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for regulating pepperoni pizzas while the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulates veggie pizzas -- even in the same plant!  Agricuture inspects chickens, HHS oversees eggs (unless they are in the voluntary grading program run by Agriculture).  USDA has the resources to inspect every meat and poultry plant on a daily basis while FDA visit spinach, seafood and other high risk processors rarely, every 5-10 years  on average.  And while FDA only has a fraction of the country's food safety dollars, more people are actually likely to get sick eating FDA-regulated foods.  The system is messy, antiquated and hazardous to our health!

While a single food agency is still a ways off, it is vital that Congress increase FDA's budget this year, to hire more inspectors and provide for preventative control programs.  It is time that that agency put its focus into preventing outbreaks, instead of responding to them.  But they can't make that change unless Congress is willing to give them the resources and the authority to take action now.