In the wake of the recent salmonella outbreak related to peanuts, lawmakers are calling for a new federal agency to oversee food safety. Suggestions range from splitting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into two agencies to creating a new agency that would combine pieces from the different agencies that currently attempt to oversee food safety.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that 650 people in 44 states have been sickened, and at least 9 have died, due to salmonella from peanut products. Currently, two Peanut Corporation of America processing plants (one in Georgia and one in Texas) are being investigated as potential sources of the outbreak.
Oversight of food safety is primarily split between the Department of Agriculture (USDA) (which regulates meat, poultry and eggs) and the FDA (which regulates seafood, produce and many other foods).
As the AP reports, Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro sponsored a bill that would split out the food related functions of the FDA into a separate food safety agency. Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois has put forth similar legislation in the Senate.
Going further, new Secretary Agriculture Tom Vilsack would combine the food safety responsibilities currently held by the FDA and the USDA into a single agency. As reported in AgWeek, Vilsak recently told the U.S. Rice Federation that "[w]e are the only industrial nation to have two systems." The New York Times quotes Vilsack as saying, "[n]o matter how you slice it, the systems are different. The coordination is not what it needs to be."
While a unified agency won’t help with the current salmonella outbreak or peanut product recalls, perhaps more centralized governmental focus will in the future lead to safer foods.