WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One independent agency with broad power would do a better job of protecting U.S. food safety than the current piecemeal system, a U.S. lawmaker who oversees food and agriculture said on Tuesday.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, said the food safety system was “fragmented” and needed reform, citing the ongoing investigation of melamine in pet food and livestock feed.
Currently both USDA and FDA monitor food safety.
“I believe it’s time we now move to create a single food agency,” DeLauro said during a telephone news conference. The Connecticut Democrat and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois are sponsors of a bill to do that.
DeLauro’s colleague Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has suggested that food safety should be consolidated at USDA, but she is not convinced that’s the best way.
DeLauro said “That is not the primary mission” of USDA, which also promotes agricultural products.
She criticized FDA for not being aggressive enough about calling for more inspections of imported foods; she also said the food industry should be encouraged to look for ways to prevent contamination of its products.
DeLauro said FDA has failed to ask for more authority to enforce food standards or to ensure food recalls.
Outside of Capitol Hill, some industry experts echoed DeLauro’s arguments, saying the federal government needs to be more proactive.
“This is not a new story about the need to modernize the system,” said Michael Taylor, a University of Maryland professor, who held food safety offices at USDA and FDA. “We need a system that focuses on prevention.”