Currently, as many as 15 governmental agencies have their hand in food safety — primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, but also others like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the FDA and Agriculture Department are the main overseers, they too have different protocols and inspection methods.
The Obama administration has proposed a streamlined approach to food safety that would bring all the agencies under one roof in the Department of Health and Human Services. Centralizing food safety might run into some problems, as food safety experts, food safety inspectors, and consumer groups are already resistant to the idea.
The FDA and Agriculture Department often find themselves in opposition with each other: not only do they have different protocols — their guidelines are entirely different, from mandates to inspections programs to training and education — they are also territorial.
While the FDA oversees a majority of the food we eat, such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and shelled eggs, the Agriculture Department inspects our meat, poultry, and processed eggs. However, both departments’ inspections methods vary widely.
Everyday, the Agriculture Department, for instance, will assign inspectors to livestock processing plants so that every piece of meat and poultry is thoroughly examined. Every meat and poultry plant in the US is lawfully obligated to have an inspector there daily. Because the FDA is in charge of inspecting more food products, inspectors aren’t present at every plant.
Foods imported into the US also seem to have to pass few inspections. In order for meat to comply with US standards, the export countries must have inspection protocols that are the same as the Agriculture Departments. At the most, the FDA inspects two percent of our plant imports.
Some of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspectors think that the FDA’s standards would weaken their own. Other doubters assert that there is no research that advocates that a streamlined system would be better than the US’s current system.
But it seems like US food safety might already need change. Every year, around 87 million Americans fall sick from food, 371,000 go to the hospital for that sickness, and 5,700 die.
February 23, 2015
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