In the midst of a slew of food safety outbreaks over the past few years, the US food safety system has come under increasing criticism, including for the disjointed nature of its inspection procedures. When President Obama promised to streamline food safety operations earlier this year, many consumer and industry organizations said they hoped it would put an end to the situation where the FDA is responsible for about 85 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks but receives less than half the federal funding for food safety – but the option of a single government entity in control of food inspections has yet to be considered.
However, chief of the fresh produce branch of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Leanne Skelton has been tasked with helping the FDA develop food safety rules for produce and assessing the impact of those rules on industry, including small and organic farmers, as well as local food safety authorities. She will spend six months working on the project, the agencies said.
AMS administrator Rayne Pegg said: "We are delighted that the FDA sought USDA’s counsel and cooperation as they tackle the challenges of ensuring the safety and availability of fresh produce and healthy foods. The USDA and the FDA have joined together on listening sessions and farm tours, and are eager to develop a system of regulation that will work for American families and the growers.”
The FDA said that Skelton’s appointment and a joint outreach program “underscore the two agencies’ commitment to work cooperatively on food safety”.
Under current law, food safety monitoring, inspection and labeling functions are spread across 15 agencies in the federal government, including the USDA, which oversees meat, poultry and egg products; the FDA, which oversees most other food products; and the US Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service, which inspects fish.