'Restructuring' sought for food safety

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Although the Food and Drug Administration bears the brunt of the nation’s food-safety oversight, at least 15 government agencies have a hand in making sure food is safe under at least 30 different laws, some of which date back to the early 1900s. It's a convoluted system, according to The Associated Press.

"There is no one person, no individual today who is responsible for food safety," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "We have an immediate crisis which requires a real restructuring."

For more than a decade Ms. DeLauro and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., proposed an overhaul of the nation's food-safety structure. There might now be the political will to do something following the most-recent outbreak of Salmonella traced to peanuts blamed for sickening 600 people and killing at least nine others.

Tom Vilsack, President Obama's new agriculture secretary, said he supports creating a single, combined food-safety agency, which is a major break from his predecessors. Such a radical overhaul, however, would be difficult. Many in the food industry have long opposed any changes, fearing increased oversight could cut into profits, AP said. Allies in Congress have resisted new laws.

Resistance, however, appears to be softening due to high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness from domestic and foreign food sources in recent years.

Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said industry is open to change. But businesses are concerned about reorganizing the entire system. The priority should be strengthening the current agencies before rearranging them, he said.

Two years ago the G.A.O., the investigative arm of Congress, recommended that Congress re-examine the system, but few changes have been made.

Meanwhile, many food-safety bills have been introduced in Congress. Many would strengthen F.D.A.'s oversight rather than creating a single lead agency. Ms. DeLauro's bill would not combine agencies into one. It would divide the F.D.A. in two, separating the agency's drug oversight and food-safety duties.

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