Congress Slow to Act on Food Safety Despite Warnings

By Marion Wang, ProPublica Reporter

Years before last week’s recall of more than half a billion salmonella-contaminated eggs, a government watchdog report [1] said federal oversight of food safety is a “high-risk area,” noting that responsibility for food safety is fragmented among at least 15 agencies [PDF].

That same report, from 2007, noted that expenditures between the two main agencies—the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—showed the FDA holding the short end of the stick.

From the report:

For example, the majority of federal expenditures for food safety inspection were directed toward USDA’s programs for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products; however, USDA is responsible for regulating only about 20 percent of the food supply. In contrast, FDA, which is responsible for regulating about 80 percent of the food supply, accounted for only about 24 percent of expenditures.

The report also noted that food recalls are voluntary and neither the FDA nor the USDA have the authority to order them—except for the FDA’s authority to force a recall of infant formula. The report proposed that Congress enact an overhaul and, in particular, give these agencies the authority to order food recalls.

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