Food safety advocates speak out about need for single food safety agency


SEATTLE – A draft of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on food safety was released Tuesday. The report, which was addressed to several members of Congress, is titled, “Experiences of Seven Countries in Consolidating Their Food Safety Systems,” and it assesses the establishment of single agencies dedicated to food safety management by Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

All seven countries had previously relied on two or more agencies to ensure food safety, but shifted responsibilities to a single agency within the last three years. All reported that the benefits of consolidation have or will likely exceed the costs of creating or merging food safety agencies. For example, Dutch officials said that a reduction in duplication of food safety inspections would likely result in decreased food safety spending.

“Right now, USDA and FDA are the two governmental entities primarily responsible for food safety,” said William Marler, an attorney with Marler Clark, the food safety attorneys. “How can food safety be a top priority for these agencies when they are tasked with promoting the sale of the same foods they are supposed to be regulating? We need one independent agency that deals with foodborne pathogens and whose sole responsibility is to protect the public.”

“We have always challenged the idea of dual missions within the USDA,” states Nancy Donley, President of S.T.O.P.—Safe Tables Our Priority. “It’s a clear conflict of interest for one agency to have responsibility for both the regulation and marketing of the same product.”

S.T.O.P. has long been a strong advocate for an independent food safety agency whose sole responsibility is protecting the public’s health and safety. “As with any significant change, however, the devil’s in the details,” cautioned Donley. “We have known for years that there are enormous gaps and some overlap in food safety regulation over various sectors within the food industry. A single agency would best be able to correct these conditions.”

“The annual cost of foodborne illness in medical costs and lost productivity is four times the annual food safety budget,” Marler continued. “By creating a single food safety agency, we can increase budget efficiency and increase food safety at the same time.” According to the report, the United States government spent $1.7 billion on food safety in fiscal year 2003. The estimated cost of foodborne illness is $7 billion a year.

“But consolidation of agencies must not be viewed upon as an immediate opportunity by Congress to decrease spending in the area of food safety. The idea is to improve the safety of food and not just maintain the status quo,” Donley concluded.

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Marler Clark is a Seattle law firm dedicated to representing victims of E. coli, Salmonella, hepatitis A, and other foodborne illnesses. The firm has represented individuals injured in most of the largest outbreaks across the U.S. in the last ten years. For more information on the firm, visit www.MarlerClark.com or call 866-770-2032.

Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) is the national foodborne illness victims’ organization founded in 1993 to prevent suffering, illness and death from serious foodborne disease. S.T.O.P. offers victim assistance, public education, and advocacy for safer food via www.SafeTables.org and through its toll-free hotline: 1-800-350-STOP.