Food safety regulation in the U.S. is fragmented among 12 federal agencies with no overarching logic. Providing safe cheese pizza is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – but if you put pepperoni on it, the Department of Agriculture is responsible. That makes no sense. The results from spinach to peanut butter to dog and cat food to chickens and hogs to the recent beef recall have become headline news, and not in a good way.
In February, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin introduced the senate version of the Safe Food Act of 2007 (S. 654) that would, among other things, put food safety in the hands of a single new federal agency, the Food Safety Administration. While I don’t know all of the details, that just makes sense to me. When it comes to accountability, why should we have to figure out which of 12 agencies and 35 laws are responsible to make sure our particular food item is safe? When I go shopping at a grocery store I hold that store responsible for my shopping experience and the quality of what I buy – not the guy who put out the carrots, the person who cuts the turkey sandwich meat and the cleaning crew member who cleaned aisle seven with a mop after-hours. When I go to out to eat I hold the waiter or waitress representing the restaurant responsible for my dining experience and the quality of my meal – not the guy who made the garlic bread, the person who washed the salad greens and the truck driver who delivered the flour. When I buy food in the United States I hold our government responsible for making sure it’s safe – but “our government” is pretty big and can be hard to figure out (‘how many of the 12 safety agencies do you have represented on your dinner plate?’). Wouldn’t it force more accountability if I could say ‘I hold the Food Safety Administration responsible for our food safety?’ Wouldn’t I know where to go if there’s a recall – or where to report my concerns if I thought there was a food safety problem? One agency just makes sense – and so does ensuring the safety of our food.