A report titled, "HHS
in the 21st Century" from the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
recommends consolidating USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
with the food safety activities of the FDA and locating the new entity
within HHS. Secretary Vilsack has also opined that a single food safety agency
might be a good move, leading one to assume the new Administration will
support those who have longed advocated for consolidation of entities
with a role in food safety.
Despite the elevated rhetoric,
there are several reasons that I believe jamming the USDA's FSIS, the
food safety role of FDA and who knows what else into a giant, monolithic,
single food safety bureaucracy is not going to happen anytime soon.
First and foremost are budgetary issues. If the two agencies combined
with no change in their respective budget allocations, there would either
be a reduction in the level and frequency of inspection in meat and
poultry plants, something the consumer advocates will not allow to
happen, associated with increased inspection of current FDA plants,
something industry would fight. If the two agencies were to combine with
the goal of continued levels of FSIS inspection and increased levels of
FDA inspection, the budget would have to be increased substantially,
something Congress just cannot do in the current economic conditions.
Secondly, it would surprise me immensely if the House and Senate
Agriculture Committees were to relinquish their control of this portion
of the USDA. Relationships built up over the years run deep. To
change the players and the control would not come about easily.
The IOM was asked by the House of Representatives to assess if HHS was
"ideally organized" to meet the health challenges of the United
States. Creating a huge new bureaucracy does not seem a fitting
conclusion to the assessment. Big, as in AIG, Citibank and others, is not
always better. Small, with expertise in a focused area, with ability to
respond quickly to emergencies, with established lines of communication,
often is better.
I don’t like it when people are critical of something without offering
ways to improve that "something". So how would I create a safer
food supply within the current budget constraints? I will share my
thoughts in the following weeks.