Food for Thought

We’ve mentioned before that the Obama administration will soon be focusing on developing new  approaches to consumer-product safety. It’s worth remembering some of the solutions that have been proposed over the past couple of years, as high-profile problems with contaminated food and drugs have raised concerns about the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to meet its tremendous responsibilities.

In particular, we shouldn’t forget about Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s proposal to separate FDA’s food and drug missions. In September, DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 7143), which would shift FDA’s current food responsibilities to a new Food Safety Administration located within the Department of Health and Human Services. The President would then appoint a Senate-confirmed Commissioner of Food Safety and Nutrition Policy to head the new agency. The FDA itself would be renamed the Federal Drug and Device Administration.

DeLauro first presented her proposal here at the George Washington University earlier this year, explaining that her approach addresses four basic institutional changes needed to ensure an effective food safety system:

  • streamlining the fragmented legal and organizational structure
  • recognizing food safety as a top priority
  • providing food safety with vital resources and funding
  • providing food safety with real leadership and authority

Establishing a separate agency for food safety would help certainly help with FDA’s current fragmented structure, and making the shift would emphasize that food safety is a top priority.  Resources, as always, would be a challenge.  But we have to remember that failing to address food safety also has a cost, both to affected sectors of the food industry and in terms of human life.