Cancel OK

New federal food agency proposed in Congress

u.s department of food

Hey! Maybe I’ll get my wish after all!

In a column last month, I suggested detaching food safety regulation from the incompetent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and creating a new Department of Food.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have introduced legislation proposing to do just that.

“In recent years, FDA has been plagued by one failure after another—from a failure to properly recognize the dangers of prescription opioids, to a failure to protect children from e-cigarette products, to a failure to properly ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Durbin.

“The sad reality is that FDA seems unwilling or unable to use their authority to protect Americans from preventable illness and death. For that reason, Congresswoman DeLauro and I are introducing legislation to transfer all of FDA’s food responsibilities to a new agency that, we hope, will have more success in protecting the foods in our kids’ lunch boxes and on our dining room tables.”

“The Food Safety Administration Act would establish the Food Safety Administration under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by incorporating the existing food programs within FDA into this separate agency: the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA). This agency would be led by a food safety expert confirmed by the Senate,” according to Durbin’s website.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), however, would remain in USDA—a strategic departure for Durbin and DeRosa, who had previously proposed incorporating it into the new food agency.

Durbin’s site quoted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the effect that 128,000 Americans are hospitalized each year and 3,000 Americans die of foodborne diseases.

Support so far has come chiefly from consumer and environmental organizations such as Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group.

But industry leaders have expressed support for a strong and competent food regulatory agency. It is, after all, in the industry’s own interest: no one benefits when consumers are skittish about the safety of the things they put in their shopping carts—including fresh fruits and vegetables.

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) BB #:378962 issued this statement about the proposed legislation:

“The legislation introduced by Congresswoman DeLauro and Senator Durbin illustrates the breadth of stakeholders looking to improve how food safety is managed, and we appreciate the interest of Congress in food safety issues. IFPA, along with many stakeholder groups, have concerns with how food safety is currently handled at FDA. We remain optimistic that the Commissioner will implement changes at the agency without Congressional intervention. The FDA is the primary federal regulator of produce safety in the US, and it’s critical that the agency works efficiently, effectively, transparently and collaboratively.”

What are the legislation’s prospects? Without having any Capitol Hill sources, I can only say that Congress has been remarkably lax in advancing transformative new legislation (as the stalemate over farm labor reform sadly shows).

Usually this is blamed on interparty hostility, but at this point it seems to go further than that, since Congress also seems stalemated on issues that enjoy bipartisan support. It is starting to look as if the cause is ingrained institutional apathy.

After all, the Senate has yet to get around to approving Doug McKalip, the Biden administration’s candidate chief agricultural negotiator at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative.

In short, we will probably see a new Food Safety Administration along the lines of this legislation—maybe in ten years or so.

Editor’s note: This column has been updated from its original with comment from IFPA.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.