On January 28, 2015, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced respective companion food safety legislation in the Senate (S.287, the “Safe Food Act of 2015”) and House (HR.609). The measure, if enacted, would consolidate all the authorities for food safety inspections, enforcement, and food labeling into one independent federal agency called the “Food Safety Administration.” Currently, food safety oversight is split up among 15 agencies in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Commerce. According to Sen. Durbin, the aim of the legislation is to improve food safety for consumers while also cutting back on the costs of a dispersed system with overlapping responsibilities. Similarly, President Barack Obama’s just-released 2016 Budget proposal also calls for establishing a single independent food safety agency. Thus, the President would most likely sign the Safe Food Act into law if it passes Congress.

At this time, 13 Democrats (and no Republicans) have signed on to the legislation as co-sponsors. However, given that both the Senate and House are controlled by Republicans, it is unclear if sponsors of the initiative will be able to muster enough support among colleagues for it to pass Congress. Moreover, the legislation is similar to past bills introduced five times previously by Sen. Durbin and Rep. DeLauro, most recently in 2007, without success.

As worded, the Act would provide the Food Safety Administration with mandatory recall authority for unsafe food, require risk assessments and preventive control plans to reduce adulteration, authorize enforcement actions to strengthen contaminant performance standards, improve foreign food import inspections, and require full food traceability to better identify sources of outbreaks. Although these are notable goals, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently several years into its implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2012 (FSMA), which is also intended to address and improve upon on many of the same food safety issues addressed in the new legislation. As noted in the legislation, the following federal agencies would be incorporated into the new Food Safety Administration:

  • The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN);
  • The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM);
  • The resources and facilities of FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs that administer and conduct inspections of food and feed facilities and imports;
  • The resources and facilities of the Office of the FDA Commissioner known as the Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine that support CFSAN, CVM, and inspections;
  • The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service;
  • The part of the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service that administers shell egg surveillance;
  • The part of USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics mission area related to food and feed safety;
  • The part of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service related to the management of animals going into the food supply; and
  • The part of the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce that administers the seafood inspection program.

Clearly, such a food safety re-organization effort would take years to achieve at a cost of $100s of millions of dollars. Further, over the last 10 years, the federal government has spent $1 billion or more to construct the FDA’s new campus in Silver Spring, Maryland with the goal of consolidating the majority of the Agency at one location in modern office space intended to facilitate greater cross-agency efficiencies and improved collegiality.

While current supporters of the Safe Food Act include public interest organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of America, Sen. Durbin and Rep. DeLauro have a challenge ahead to build bipartisan support for the joint measure. Current co-sponsors of the Senate Safe Food Act include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Cosponsors in the House include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), James Langevin (D-RI), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).