Four Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the feasibility of creating a single food-safety agency, a move lawmakers said is aimed to slash costs, increase efficiencies and bolster safety.
Sens. Dick Durbin (Illinois) Dianne Feinstein (California), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) requested a GAO study five months after lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced legislation that would create one federal food-safety agency. In January when the Safe Food Act of 2015 was introduced, Durbin told reporters that a single agency—dubbed the “Food Safety Administration"—would be more efficient, replacing the current regime in which 15 agencies have oversight over food safety.
“The fragmented federal food safety system has raised concerns for decades," the four senators wrote in a letter to Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General and head of the GAO. “The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has long reported that the system is in need of transformation and has resulted in inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources."
The letter requested GAO’s assistance in describing alternative structures that have been identified to consolidate the food-safety system, as well as the costs and benefits of each alternative and potential challenges of implementation. The senators also asked GAO to discuss what can be learned from efforts in other countries to consolidate food-safety functions.
The senators said the following countries have moved to consolidate their food-safety functions: Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
At least one organization—the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)—has expressed support for legislation that would create a single food-safety agency.
"It's crazy to have one cabinet secretary in charge of chicken, beef, and pepperoni pizza, and another cabinet secretary responsible for eggs, milk, and cheese pizza," CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal said earlier this year in a statement. "The Safe Food Act brings all foods under a single agency, with one leader and a modern approach to food safety. It ensures all food processors utilize systems to prevent contamination, and when problems occur, creates a uniform approach to ensuring food safety, including mandatory recall authority for meat and poultry products."