U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s proposal to have a new Food Safety Agency is exactly what is needed if the United States is to have a safe supply of our food and timely recalls when a portion of the food supply is contaminated.

At the present time that is not what is happening. The FDA (Federal Food and Drug Administration) is the government agency responsible for the safety of the nation’s food.

The FDA  was established in 1906 with the passage of the Federal Food and Drug Act (FDA). The FDA has been placed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The FDA is led by the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Commissioner reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The FDA presently regulates over 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including dairy, seafood, produce, packaged foods, bottled water, and eggs. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects meats, raw vegetables, and organic certifications. Although raw fruits and vegetables fall under the regulation of the USDA, once they’re processed into applesauce or bottled juice or dried fruit chips, they become the FDA’s problem. 

When the agency was established in 1906 there was a fraction of the number of products that the agency was responsible for. Today the number is overwhelming.  Not only is the FDA responsible for protecting the public’s health by assuring the safety of the food supply, but they are also responsible for the safety of drugs, both for humans and veterinary purposes, for cosmetics, medical devices, products that emit radiation and biological products, which include blood, blood components, gene therapy, tissues,  and vaccines.

With the enormous number of products that the FDA is now in charge of, some items take a back seat, and that is too often what happens to the food safety issues.

What we are observing all too often is that foods that are contaminated and making people sick are taking too long for the FDA to recall. The longer contaminated foods remain in the food supply without a recall – the more people get sick and some will even die.

DeLauro said in her press release, “Right now, there are no food policy experts in charge of food safety at the FDA. That is unacceptable and contributes to a string of product contaminations and subsequent recalls that disrupt the supply chain, contribute to rising prices, and in many cases, result in consumer illness and death.”

The answer to the food safety problems that this country is facing is exactly what DeLauro is proposing – a separate agency devoted to protecting the safety of our nation’s food supply. Only when this is accomplished can we all feel that our food supply is really safe, and that when a food is not safe, that it will be recalled in a timely way.

Nancy Alderman is President of Environment and Human Health, Inc. in North Haven.