Food + Drink

Breaking News: Donald Trump May Overhaul Food Safety Oversight, Moving it Away From FDA

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From LexisNexis Law 360:


Trump Floats Moving All Food Safety Oversight To USDA

Law360 (June 21, 2018, 7:41 PM EDT) — The Trump administration on Thursday proposed eliminating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority over food safety and moving the responsibility to one agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying the change would streamline fragmented federal food safety oversight.

As part of the White House’s proposed reorganization of federal agencies, the Trump administration said that moving food safety oversight to the USDA would give the agency the full mandate and budget it needs to oversee the entire U.S. food supply and would free up resources at the FDA so it could focus on regulating drugs, medical devices and tobacco.

“USDA demonstrates strong and effective leadership in food safety and maintains an expert understanding of food safety issues from the farm to the fork,” the administration said in its reorganization plan. “This proposal would cover virtually all the foods Americans eat.”

The new agency would be called the Federal Food Safety Agency — and the FDA would be renamed the Federal Drug Administration — and would be the focal point for coordinating with states, local governments and other food safety stakeholders, the administration said.

Currently, food safety oversight is scattered between the FDA and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, depending on what type of food is being regulated, the administration said.

A cheese pizza, for example, has to meet FDA standards, but if it has pepperoni on it, then the USDA unit is responsible, according to the administration.

“Last time you made an omelet, the FDA regulated any eggs you cracked yourself, but the FSIS was responsible if you poured from a carton of liquid eggs,” the administration said. “And chickens? The FDA regulates their feed while the FSIS inspects them at slaughter.”

This split in responsibility started as a response to unsafe and unsanitary meat packing conditions in the early 20th century, the administration said, but now it means that food safety issues can slip through the cracks.

For the last 40 years, the Government Accountability Office has reported that this fragmentation has resulted in inconsistent oversight and inefficient use of resources. Since 2007, food safety has been on the GAO’s list of high risk areas, the administration said.

If implemented, the consolidation would merge about 5,000 FDA workers and $1.3 billion from that agency with about 9,000 USDA workers and $1 billion in USDA resources, the administration said.

In the long run, the administration said that the proposed merger could make food safety programs and policies more consistent and would more effectively use taxpayer dollars.

Already, other USDA agencies — such as the Agricultural Research Service — focus on food safety, the administration said. ARS conducts food safety research, and other USDA programs monitor animal health and collect data on pesticide residue on produce, the administration said.

“USDA also has established relationships between state departments of agriculture, local farms, and processing facilities, and is thus keenly aware of food safety issues at all levels,” the administration said.

–Editing by Nicole Bleier.