Often when there have been food safety problems, such as the recent contamination of peanut butter, there have been calls for a single food safety agency instead of the responsibilities being spread between the USDA and Food and Drug Administration. During the past 30 years that idea has been rejected by every Secretary of Agriculture, until now. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is supporting that idea saying it might be the right way to go.
"I think it's important that we work towards ultimately a single agency," Vilsack said. "There may be lobbyists who don't think that is the way to go, but there are 325,000 people in this country that are hospitalized for food borne illnesses each year, and countless millions that have problems that they don't even realize are connected to their food supply."
House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who has long advocated a single food safety agency, has proposed a bill that would take food safety responsibilities out of FDA and create a separate food safety division within Health and Human Services. In a letter to Vilsack, DeLauro and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that GAO has also called for a single food safety agency.
"We've got an issue," Vilsack said. "We're the only industrialized country in the world to my knowledge that has two separate departments handling this very important responsibility."