The Government Accountability Office, long a proponent of overhauling the U.S. food safety system and putting it under the aegis of a single food safety agency, has produced more evidence for its view (I love this title): Food Safety: Selected Countries’ Systems Can Offer Insights into Ensuring Import Safety and Responding to Foodborne Illness. The countries they looked at have farm-to-table safety systems in place, place primary responsibility on food producers (what a concept!), deal with risk intelligently, and have mandatory recall authority. We could do this too, maybe?
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The Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committee has just announced that it will give the FDA an extra $48 million to fund food safety oversight. In federal terms, this is chump change but at least it’s an admission that the FDA is not adequately funded to meet its regulatory obligations. Why so little? Note that the money comes from agricultural appropriations, not health appropriations. This is the result of an historical anomaly; the FDA used to be part of the Department of Agriculture. When it was split off and eventually joined to the Department of Health and Human Services, its appropriations stayed with Agriculture. This, of course, is precisely the wrong place for it and helps explain why the FDA is so badly underfunded for what it has to do to protect the public from unsafe food. This is also part of the reason why the Government Accountability Office has been calling for creating a separately funded food safety agency that would take politics out of the food aspects of public health. If you think the present situation makes no sense, this is a good time to contact your congressional representatives.