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Congress should protect Americans by passing the Safe Food Act

The legislation would eliminate a fragmented, outdated system and create a single national agency dedicated to food safety

Published: February 13, 2015 11:45 AM

Every year 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne disease. That leads to 128,000 hospital visits and 3,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Food safety is a critical public-health issue, and the federal government has a big responsibility to help ensure the food we buy and feed our families is safe. Right now, food-safety oversight is divided among 15 different agencies administering some 30 laws, according to the Government Accountability Office.

For instance, beef and chicken safety falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while eggs, milk, and many other foods are covered by the Food and Drug Administration. This fragmented, outdated system makes planning, coordination, and supervision difficult.

We can do better. We ought to have one independent agency focused on the safety of our entire food supply. There’s a bill in Congress that aims to do just that.

Called the Safe Food Act, it would consolidate food-safety authorities— inspections, enforcement, labeling, research—into a single agency.

Visit the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Guide to learn about our work on arsenic in rice, gluten-free diets, GMOs, mechanically tenderized beef, and much more.

The agency created by the Safe Food Act would be entirely focused on safety, rather than being just one part of a large federal department with a wide range of missions. And it would be led by one administrator who would be accountable for food-safety programs—rather than this responsibility being split among several people.

Under the bill, the agency would be able to require the recall of all unsafe food, improve the inspections of food imported from other countries, and require full food traceability so we can better identify the sources of contamination outbreaks.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who have championed this idea for years.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, supports this legislation to enhance food safety. Four years ago, Congress passed a landmark law to overhaul food-safety laws that dated to the Depression. Now we need a single agency that can take a uniform approach to ensuring our food is safe and concentrate resources on the greatest risks. We applaud the lawmakers for introducing the Safe Food Act, and we urge Congress to approve it.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read other articles in our Policy & Action series.

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