Live Link:  Senator Coburn

Sep 15 2010

Growing an Already Disjointed and Duplicative Federal Government 

In 2008, GAO testified before a House subcommittee that “FDA is one of 15 agencies that collectively administer at least 30 laws related to food safety. This fragmentation is the key reason GAO added the federal oversight of food safety to its High-Risk Series in January 2007 and called for a government wide reexamination of the food safety system. We have reported on problems with this system—including inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.”

Specifically, GAO found that in 2003, FDA and USDA activities included overlapping and duplicative inspections of 1,451 domestic food-processing facilities that produce foods regulated by both agencies. This GAO testimony came on the heels of a 2005 GAO report that identified significant overlap in food safety activities conducted by USDA and the FDA, and to some extent the EPA and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), including “71 interagency agreements [to coordinate overlapping activities] that the agencies entered into… However, the agencies have weak mechanisms for tracking these agreements that…lead to ineffective implementation.” 

This overlap was evident in the egg salmonella scare. The Wall Street Journal reported (USDA Graders Saw Bugs and Trash at Egg Producer; Didn’t Tell FDA) that U.S. Department of Agriculture experts knew about sanitary problems at one of the two Iowa farms at the center of a massive nationwide egg recall, but did not notify health authorities.) USDA inspects farms and gives eggs their “Grade A” label, while the FDA technically is tasked with the safety of the final egg product.

This discrepancy was the impetus behind an egg safety rule originally promulgated 10 years ago by the FDA. Unfortunately, three administrations sat on the proposed rule without finalizing and implementing it. FDA Commissioner Dr. Hamburg stated, “We believe that had these rules been in place at an earlier time, it would have very likely enabled us to identify the problems on this farm before this kind of outbreak occurred.” A lack of regulatory bill isn’t the problem.

Charging the Bill to our Children and Grandchildren  More