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Single food safety agency: It's deja vu all over again

The gyms for both the House of Representatives and the Senate remain openmdashalbeit unkemptmdashduring the government shutdown Photo by Thinkstock
<p> The gyms for both the House of Representatives and the Senate remain open&mdash;albeit unkempt&mdash;during the government shutdown. (Photo by Thinkstock.)</p>
Passing an act does not create a change in food safety. Rather, enacting rules and regulations hopefully will do that, and that process is a painfully slow one at times.

The dynamic duo is at it again. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) are “proudly” introducing legislation for the umpteenth time to create a single food safety agency along with other food safety-related proposals.

DeLauro, speaking during a meeting of the Congressional Food Safety Caucus and briefing representatives from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America who were at the caucus meeting, said the U.S. food safety system is “hopelessly fragmented and outdated,” words we have heard and read countless numbers of times before.

She went on to say that nearly a decade after the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed we are still seeing foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls. Duh, passing an act does not create a change in food safety. Enacting rules and regulations hopefully will do that, and that process is a painfully slow one at times.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture/Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) started a process over 20 years ago to modernize swine inspection. One and a half years ago they announced that after 20 years of testing in swine slaughter demonstration projects they were writing the rules and regulations that would create change to post in the Federal Register for public comment. The public comment period ended in May.

DeLauro Christmas treed the federal 2020 budget with an amendment prohibiting FSIS from moving forward, thus protecting union jobs, not our health.

Yep, change can be painfully slow in D.C. Ten years after FSMA passage is just a heartbeat in D.C.

And Senator Durbin is the same man who told Mike Wallace on Fox News on Oct. 20, 2013, that “If we don’t deal with entitlements the Baby Boomers generation is going to blow away our future.”

He was referring to social security as an entitlement and is on record as calling us Boomers the “greediest generation in history.”

Hey, Dick, we just want back what we have been forced to pay into for most of our lives.

And who is he to be criticizing us when he has been on the public payroll since 1983 when he first moved to D.C.?

As proposed, the Safe Food Act of 2019, along with creating the single food safety agency, would strengthen oversight of foreign food facilities and import inspections.

I thought FSMA was supposed to do that for Food & Drug Administration-regulated products? Do we really need another law duplicating an existing one?

FSIS already has in place a system that annually audits exporters of meat and poultry products to the U.S. for the equivalency of their food safety systems compared to ours.

FSIS also has in place a system that inspects ALL imported meat and poultry.

And I would ask the duo, how much of our foodborne illnesses and recalls involve foreign imports?

Certainly not the recent Romaine lettuce recalls, nor the Wright Egg Farms, nor the Peanut Corporation of America, nor Jensen Farms cantaloupes. Not sure about E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, but I cannot recall any recently related to imports from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, etc.

The bill also would require full traceablilty to help identify products for recalls. Aren’t we already doing this, and if not, get the appropriate agency the funding to do so and require it.

A single food safety agency does not accomplish this if there is not the will nor the funding to do so.

As always, they bring out the tripe from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that there are 15 federal agencies administering the laws that regulate food safety.

Let’s face it, FDA and USDA regulate 99+% of all the food you and I eat.

But, for instance, there are three different agencies overseeing salmon, depending upon whether it is line caught in the ocean, line caught in our rivers or farm raised. 

That is a result of Congressional action. Not agency lack of oversight.

What they are after is not the other 13 agencies with miniscule roles to play in food safety.

What they are after is creating a single agency where all inspectors would be union members, much like the FSIS work force.

They reference an increase in food recalls as a reason for a single food safety agency, specifically citing an increase in meat and poultry recalls.

Maybe the recalls are because FSIS has initiated the traceability actions they are calling for, thus enabling them to force more recalls, which is actually a good thing, not the bad thing as they are portraying it.

Pulse Field Gel Electrophoresis and Whole Genome Sequencing also enable the agencies to more quickly and accurately locate the source and initiate a recall.

They also make note that the number of foodborne illnesses is higher now than in 2011 when FSMA was passed into law. Duh again, the number of U.S. citizens is also higher than then, diagnostic techniques are better, Obama care has allowed more residents to seek medical care, etc., etc.

Before anyone rips me for being opposed, take a trip to Canada and ask them how their single food safety agency conversion is going.

FDA and FSIS are so opposite in their thinking and their actions, that combining the two would actually be a huge threat to our health for many, many years until all the old timers were gone and the newbies took over.

FSIS by law provides daily, continuous inspection and FDA occasionally drops in if there is a recall or foodborne illness related to the facility.

FSIS regulates by pulling inspectors and stopping production; FDA regulates by writing “best practices” to be implemented and by gentle education.

It is the U.S. Congress that added egg products to the FSIS list, while leaving shell eggs with FDA.

It is the U.S. Congress that added farm-raised catfish to the FSIS list, while leaving imported shrimp, tilapia and other fish and seafood with FDA.

It is the U.S. Congress that omitted bison from the list of FSIS inspected products, therefore, by omission, placing it under FDA’s broad shoulders.

Bison look like cows, catfish looks a lot like tilapia, but Congress decided it took different agencies to regulate these lookalikes.

And now two of the leaders in Congress, simply by length of tenure, are pointing fingers at the two agencies for having a “fragmented and outdated” food safety inspection system and proposing another mega-agency.

Heck of a way to run a government.

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