Lawmakers are talking about what the food industry itself has bantered about for years: creating a single food safety agency, bringing together the oversight functions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies.
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois and Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut said the bill would create a single federal agency with an administrator directly appointed by the President.
Introduced as the Safe Food Act of 2015, the bill was co-sponsored by 10 other Democrats and would elevate food safety as a national priority, important as the U.S. food supply continues to source food globally.
"The fragmented Federal food safety system and outdated laws preclude an integrated, system-wide approach to preventing foodborne illness," it says.
Currently most of the responsibility for food safety lies with FDA. USDA oversees meat, poultry and processed eggs.
The bill would merge food safety oversight into a single agency, providing authority to recall unsafe food and improve inspections of imported food.
The purpose of the proposed bill is to build on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSNA), which was signed into law in January 2011. The focus of FSMA is on prevention of foodborne illness by contaminated food instead of response to such events.
Lawmakers said greater public awareness of food safety makes this an opportune time to initiate change. While the costs for creating a single agency were not discussed, the new agency would save money over time by improving efficiency.
DeLauro said that until the passage of FSMA, "the whole issue of food safety was a step-child at the FDA."
FDA has not commented on the proposed legislation.