In a new report, the watchdog Government Accountability Office reviews six incidents in which genetically modified foods got into places they weren’t supposed to be. GAO concludes that when it comes to GM foods, the USDA, FDA, and EPA need to do a better job of communicating, coordinating, and acting more transparently. Will this report do any good? Let’s hope.
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The Government Accountability Office says fixing the food safety system should be a high priority for the new administration. Specifically, it asks the new President to:
- Reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety right away, and develop longer term structures to promote interagency coordination on food safety.
- Develop a “governmentwide performance plan” for agencies to ensure that goals are complementary and resource allocations are balanced.
- Encourage Congress to assign the National Academy of Sciences to analyze alternative food safety organizational structures.
- Encourage Congress to pass “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
For decades, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been pressing the FDA to do a better job of regulating the food supply. These days, the GAO is dealing with produce safety. It worries that the FDA has no formal program in place to protect the safety of fresh produce when it is so obvious that such a program is needed. The GAO also scolds the FDA for not keeping up with monitoring of food labels. The FDA has too much to do and not enough resources. But, says GAO, the FDA would do better if it took this watchdog agency’s advice–but it doesn’t. Why not? The GAO doesn’t say so, but it’s politics, of course. The food industry is ever vigilant against regulation. This stance goes against the food industry’s best interest, in my view. Yours?
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?
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.