An estimated one in six Americans will become ill this year from a food-borne illness. Despite recent calls to merge America’s food safety oversight functions into a single agency, it’s not likely to happen soon. Currently, the system is highly fragmented: fifteen agencies play some role in food safety, including the USDA, FDA, the Centers for Disease Control, and even the EPA. Food producers and processors face a daunting and confusing array of regulations. Add to the mix the rapid increase in imported foods: 16% of the food Americans eat comes from abroad, and there are limited resources to devote to the task of inspection.
Steve Morris of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), says “the food-safety system is one recall away from a crisis.” The GAO is just one agency calling for reform.
“There’s no easy fix to this problem,” [Courtney] Thomas says. “What you’re talking about is a legal, a regulatory, and a cultural shift. A political shift that we haven’t seen in this country in the last 100 years.”
And without an immediate crisis, it seems there’s not much political appetite for shaking up the system.