I never wear T-shirts except when I go to the gym, so a photo of me in one is a rarity.
Here I am shown modeling a T-shirt sent to me by Bill Marler, probably the nation’s leading food safety litigation attorney. It’s part of a campaign to detach food—the F—from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has proved its inadequacy in ensuring the nation’s food safety.
In a recent op-ed piece, Marler commented, “It is time to “GET THE F OUT OF THE FDA.’ The F is Food. The D is Drugs. We need to separate the FDA functions between Food (food safety and human nutrition) and Drugs (and medical devices). For too long, those at the top of FDA have focused on what they know and care about—medical drugs and devices. And FDA food issues have been overlooked and underfunded. It is time the White House and the Congress take responsibility for protecting the public by breaking the FDA apart and creating a new dedicated foods agency.” Publisher’s Platform: Get the F out of the FDA | Food Safety News
Does the FDA care about food? Look at the numbers. It is requesting a total budget of $7.2 billion for fiscal 2024. Of that, a mere $128.2 million will be for food safety.
Recently FDA commissioner Robert Califf announced a restructuring of FDA that many in the food industry, including the International Fresh Produce Association, have deplored as inadequate. FDA restructuring: not good enough – Produce Blue Book
“This current budget does not include money for the restructuring,” Califf added. “It does include additional money for the human foods program based on needs that were already identified, for example, infant formula, where there’s a lot of work to be done in building that program.”
Califf was alluding to the notorious episode last year when the FDA was blasted for its incompetence in dealing with the tainted baby formula produced by an Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, MI. According to Politico, “the first infant illness was reported to federal health officials in September . Inspectors were not sent to the plant to investigate until late January. Product was not recalled until February .” How the FDA’s food division fails to regulate health and safety hazards (politico.com)
In July 2022, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation proposing a new Food Safety Administration that would take over the F parts of the FDA.
I certainly agree that the F needs to be taken out of the FDA, but I also believe that food safety is only a part—and not necessarily the largest part—of the picture. The richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world is facing a crisis of malnutrition among much of its population.
I have already argued for the creation of a totally independent Department of Food and Nutrition, Time for a Department of Food – Produce Blue Book to be headed by a cabinet-level secretary, taking over not only food safety functions from FDA but also the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps). Food and nutrition are so vital to national health and security that no smaller solution will do. Such a move could only help the produce industry, because a concerted and successful effort at improving Americans’ diet would certainly highlight fresh fruit and vegetables.
I am under no illusions that any such department will be created in the foreseeable future—certainly not by the present 118th Congress. But I do believe that is a long-term goal that needs to be achieved.
Why? Because it is the right answer to this problem. Intermediate steps, including a separate food safety administration, would be an improvement over the status quo. But let’s get it right the first time.