DeLauro first introduced the legislation, the Single Food Safety Agency Act, in 1999, but reintroduced the bill this week in response to new foodborne illness figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency’s new estimates have been revised downwards, but the CDC has said this is not a reflection of a safer food supply, rather a better understanding of foodborne illness and improved methods for data collection. According to the CDC figures, about 48m Americans become ill as a result of foodborne illness each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
DeLauro said: “While the methodology for estimating the number of foodborne illness has improved, foodborne disease remains a major public health threat… These estimates show that significant work remains in identifying and combating the pathogens that cause foodborne illness.”
She said that the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is currently pending before Congress, “represents a good first step” toward cutting the number of illnesses and deaths caused by foodborne illness.
“However, our efforts to reform the food safety system must not end there because the jurisdictional overlaps and complicated regulatory structure will continue to hamper our efforts to make our food supply safer,” she said.
“That is why I am re-introducing legislation that would create a single independent food safety agency that would help reduce the potential for future outbreaks, implement the best food safety practices, and eliminate the jurisdictional issues we have faced. Ultimately, a single food agency solely focused on protecting American consumers is critical to ensuring the safety of our food supply and protecting the public health.”
Under current law, food safety monitoring, inspection and labeling functions are spread across 15 agencies in the federal government, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for about 80 percent of the food supply, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees meat, poultry and egg products.
Confusion deriving from the division of responsibilities between agencies was highlighted again this summer during the recall of more than half a billion eggs from two Iowa egg producers, thought to have sickened at least 1,900 people. The FDA is responsible for egg safety when eggs are still in the shell, but the USDA takes over once they are broken. In addition, the FDA is in charge of chicken feed safety, while the USDA is responsible for the chickens.