Trump proposes consolidation of federal food safety into single agency under USDA

USA – Trump’s administration on June 21, 2018 proposed consolidation of federal food safety into a single agency, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This seeks to bring together the functions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) into a single agency housed at USDA called the “Federal Food Safety Agency.”

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According to the US government, the proposal addresses the current fragmented Federal oversight of food safety and would cover virtually all the food categories in America.

While USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, processed egg products (e.g., liquid eggs) and catfish, FDA is responsible for all other foods, including seafood and shelled eggs.

The plan also aims at reduce duplication of inspection at some food processing facilities, improve outreach to consumers and industry and achieve savings over time while ensuring robust and coordinated food safety oversight.

“There are many examples of how illogical our fragmented and sometimes duplicative food safety system can be,” said the Trump Administration report.

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“For example: while FSIS has regulatory responsibility for the safety of liquid eggs, FDA has regulatory responsibility for the safety of eggs while they are inside their shells; FDA regulates cheese pizza; but if there is pepperoni on top, it falls under the jurisdiction of FSIS; FDA regulates closed-faced meat sandwiches, while FSIS regulates open-faced meat sandwiches.”

Following the reorganisation, FDA would be renamed Federal Drug Administration, mandated to regulate drugs, medical devices, biologics, tobacco products, dietary supplements and cosmetics.

Although the proposal did not state if all of FDA’s current food functions would transition to USDA labeling, menu labeling, packaging and food contact substances, it may retain at least part of its current food portfolio if/when the consolidation plan is implemented.

FDA would continue to regulate dietary supplements as currently; FDA regulates supplements as foods although it regulates them differently than “conventional” foods.

The administration indicated that the proposed consolidation of FDA’s and USDA’s food safety functions would merge approximately 5,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and US$1.3 billion from FDA with about 9,200 FTEs and US$1 billion in resources in USDA.

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However, merging the food safety functions of FDA and USDA would require congressional action and reconciliation of regulatory approaches, which the administration acknowledged in its proposal.

Plans to merge the two agencies were also proposed by the former President Obama who also wanted to consolidate food safety, only he preferred housing it in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Food and Drug Administration.

His efforts were blocked by the Congress as only it has the power of reorganising the government.

In the recent past, the Congress has also issued numerous reports, going back years, all calling for a single federal food safety agency and listing numerous criticisms of the existing system.

The report also said that those who also called for consolidation included National Research Council and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Based on their insights, the single, independent food safety agency is the model that is usually favoured by groups representing consumers and victims of foodborne illness.

According to them, an independent agency would have the highest visibility and focus to gain public support and resources.

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