cites problems in food safety system
of Article: http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSTRE52U7K920090331
Mar 31, 2009 6:09pm EDT
By Christopher Doering
(Reuters) - The U.S. food safety system is divided by competing
philosophies and a lack of accountability that make it harder to protect
consumers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday as the country
faced another food recall.
recalls since 2006 have led to vociferous calls by lawmakers, the Obama
administration and consumer groups to reform the antiquated system.
the latest outbreak, a California firm issued a nationwide recall of
pistachios on Monday due to possible salmonella contamination, and health
regulators told consumers to avoid all pistachio products for now.
is no question that whatever system is ultimately devised has to be a
system that provides for specific accountability," Vilsack told a
House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA.
seems to me today we have competing philosophies" with the USDA focused
more on prevention while the Food and Drug Administration targets
mitigation due to a heavy workload and limited staffing, said Vilsack.
federal agencies handle food safety including FDA, which handles about 80
percent of the food supply, and USDA, which is in charge of red meat,
poultry and eggs.
you have 15 separate agencies in the federal government responsible for
some part (of food safety), you've got way too many," said Vilsack,
who supports a single food agency. Who do "you hold accountable when
there is a problem?"
Obama announced a White House panel this month to improve food safety. He
assigned Vilsack to head the group along with former Kansas governor
Kathleen Sebelius, his nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.
are in an emergency situation today," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who
chairs the House subcommittee. She urged the working group to move quickly
to propose reforms.
administration is going to have to weigh in on a direction to take before
we put into place legislation that may not get us where we want to go in
terms of food safety."
including DeLauro have introduced legislation this year to improve food
safety oversight. The bills focus largely on giving the FDA more funding
and power, such as the ability to conduct a mandatory recall.
a separate hearing, Sebelius told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee on Tuesday that improving the nation's food safety
required industry involvement as well as beefing up the FDA.
also said it was too soon to talk about splitting FDA's food and drug safety
responsibilities into two agencies as some critics have suggested.
reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by David Gregorio)