Too Many Chefs in the Food-Safety Kitchen?

CSPI Praises Durbin/DeLauro Push to Revamp Aging Food Safety Laws


Only a single food safety agency can handle modern challenges like bioterrorism and mad cow disease, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Today the nonprofit food-safety watchdog group applauded comprehensive legislation offered by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that would create such an agency and revamp what CSPI says is an antiquated, 100-year-old set of food-safety laws.

The new legislation would combine the two food-safety regulatory programs of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with a seafood program operated by the Department of Commerce. The bill would modernize existing inspection programs for meat and poultry and require new preventative control programs for seafood, eggs and produce. The new agency would administer existing nutrition labeling and pesticide laws, as well as the new authority given to FDA under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

"Right now there are too many chefs in the food-safety kitchen," said CSPI food-safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "The new law would put one agency in charge and give it authority from the farm gate to the cash register. No longer would public health officials have to wonder which agency to call when an outbreak of food poisoning strikes. A single food safety agency would apply criteria that ensure the riskiest foods get the most attention."

Present food-safety responsibilities are divided among various federal agencies in counter-intuitive ways, according to CSPI. For instance, USDA regulates cows, but FDA regulates milk. USDA regulates chickens, but FDA regulates eggs. USDA regulates frozen pepperoni pizza, but FDA regulates frozen cheese pizza. And both USDA and FDA employ ineffective voluntary recall programs and grossly unscientific systems to inspect food, says DeWaal.

"Modern food hazards require state-of-the-art solutions that incorporate modern science in setting inspection priorities," DeWaal said. "Band-aids don't work on a food-safety system that needs a heart transplant. Senator Durbin and Representative DeLauro have tackled the hard questions and found viable science-based solutions."

Seventy-six million Americans suffer from food borne illness each year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths, according to CDC estimates. The foods most likely to cause food-poisoning outbreaks are meat and poultry, seafood, produce, and eggs.

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