GAO Tags Food Safety Overhaul As An Urgent Issue For The Next Administration.November 10, 2008
By Ricardo Carvajal –
According to a web site set up by GAO to aid the 2009 congressional and presidential transition, the need to revamp oversight of food safety is one of several pressing issues that demand urgent attention. Since the early-1990’s, GAO has issued a long string of reports that criticize numerous aspects of the federal government’s system for oversight of food safety. GAO has been especially critical of the fragmented nature of the current system, noting that multiple agencies are tasked with administering 30 or more laws, resulting in “inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.” Resource constraints are highlighted as a particular problem for FDA.
GAO previously advocated establishment of a single food safety agency, but its new transition web site stops short of reiterating that recommendation. Instead, GAO urges the President to “consider alternative structures for oversight of food safety to facilitate interagency coordination,” and suggests that Congress “commission the National Academy of Sciences or a blue ribbon panel to conduct a detailed analysis of alternative organizational food safety structures,” among other measures. GAO also recommends that Congress enact “comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation.”
It is not difficult to find areas of the current food safety oversight system that are sorely in need of improvement. However, devising cost-effective measures that will yield tangible improvements is another matter. Let’s hope that the urge to do something is tempered by the restraint needed to ensure that matters are not made worse.