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The Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a report released, recommends that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President (EOP), in consultation with stakeholders, develop a national strategy to guide the federal food safety oversight system and address ongoing fragmentation.
The safety and quality of the US food supply, both domestic and imported, are governed by a “highly complex system” stemming from at least 30 federal laws that are administered by 16 federal agencies. The agencies with primary responsibility for food safety oversight are the FDA and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
The federal food safety oversight system is supplemented by states, localities, tribes, and territories, which may have their own laws and agencies to address food safety and quality. In all, more than 3,000 non-federal agencies perform the great majority of government food safety activities.
For more than four decades, the GAO has reported on the fragmented federal food safety oversight system. For example, in the past, the GAO has reported that FDA has primary responsibility for regulating frozen cheese pizza manufacturers, FSIS has primary responsibility for regulating makers of frozen pizzas with meat, and multiple additional federal agencies play roles in regulating the components of either type of pizza.
In its prior work, the GAO has also identified options for reducing fragmentation and overlap in food safety oversight, including alternative organizational structures. These options include establishing a single food safety agency, a food safety inspection agency, a data collection and risk analysis center, and a coordination mechanism led by a central chair.
At a two-day meeting GAO hosted last June, 19 food safety and government performance experts agreed that there is a compelling need to develop a national strategy to provide a framework for strengthening the federal food safety oversight system and addressing fragmentation. The experts identified and described the following five key elements that should be included in a national strategy for food safety oversight:
Purpose: The starting point for developing a national strategy includes defining the problem, developing a mission statement, and identifying goals.
Leadership: The national strategy should establish sustained leadership to achieve progress in food safety oversight. The leadership should reside at the highest level of the administration and needs to have authority to implement the national strategy and be accountable for its progress.
Resources: The national strategy should identify staffing and funding requirements and
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