The US government food safety system: Who’s in charge?
July 17, 2008
In the United States, the principal federal regulatory organizations responsible for providing consumer protection with regards to food are:
- US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and certain egg products and for performing certain food quality inspections and certifications that include food safety elements.
- FDA is responsible for the safety of all other foods, including milk, seafood, and fruits and vegetables.The FDA is charged with protecting consumers against impure, unsafe, and fraudulently labeled food other than in areas regulated by FSIS.
- EPA’s mission includes protecting public health and the environment from risks posed by pesticides and promoting safer means of pest management. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of pesticide residues that are allowed in food.
- National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the Department of Commerce provides fee-for-service inspections of seafood safety and quality.
- Department of Homeland Security is responsible for coordinating agencies’ food security activities, including at U.S. borders.
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS’ primary role in the U.S. food safety network of agencies is to protect against plant and animal pests and diseases.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for monitoring, identifying, and investigating foodborne disease problems and for working with FDA, NMFS, USDA, state and local public health departments, universities, and industry to develop control methods.
The Department of Treasury’s Customs Service assists the regulatory authorities by checking and occasionally detaining imports based on guidance provided. Many agencies and offices have food safety missions within their research, education, prevention, surveillance, standard-setting, and/or outbreak response activities, including DHHS’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH); USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS); Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES); Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS); Economic Research Service (ERS); Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA); and the U.S. Codex office; and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Major U.S. food safety authorizing statutes include the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA), Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), and Public Health Service Act.
Procedural statutes, which regulatory agencies must follow, include the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). The APA specifies requirements for rulemaking (i.e., the process by which federal agencies formulate, amend, or repeal a regulation and the process permitting any interested party to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a regulation). Substantive regulations promulgated by an agency under the APA have the force and effect of law. FACA requires that certain kinds of groups whose advice is relied upon by the government be chartered as advisory committees, that they be constituted to provide balance, to avoid a conflict of interest, and to hold committee meetings in public with an opportunity for comment from those outside the committee. The FOIA provides the public with a statutory right to access federal agency information.
Still wondering why nothing ever gets done?