• United States



The safety of food, glorious food

Jan 31, 20072 mins
Data and Information SecurityPhysical Security

The Government Accounting Office today added the area of food safety to its list of “high risk areas” the White House and Congress should address. (Read a full version of the GAO’s report, “High Risk Series, An Update,” in this 98-page PDF, here.)

The report (see pages 26-31) highlights a number of challenges and risks facing this $1 trillion industry. They include:

  • a chaotic quilt of federal agencies tasked with regulating the food industry and enforcing the rules.
  • overlapping use of federal dollars and resources to pursue food safety activities — for example, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration both inspect food imports at 18 U.S. ports, but they fail to share inspection resources.
  • food recalls are voluntary, not subject to government mandates
  • the 9/11 attacks heightened concerns about the vulnerability of food safety to terror attacks
  • while close to 75 percent of the U.S. government’s $1.7 billion budget on food safety goes to protecting the meat, poultry and egg supplies, that leaves another 80 percent of the nation’s food products receiving about one-quarter of the dollars.

The GAO says that government officials are aware of these issues and have acted on some of them. But the nation needs a more comprehensive, risk-based approach to the issue of food safety. The report states:

Congress and the executive branch can and should create the environment needed to look across the activities of individual programs within specific agencies and toward the goals that the federal government is trying to achieve. To that end, we have recommended, among other things, that Congress enact comprehensive, uniform, and risk-based food safety legislation and commission the National Academy of Sciences or a blue ribbon panel to conduct a detailed analysis of alternative organizational food safety structures.30 We have also recommended that the executive branch reconvene the President’s Council on Food Safety to facilitate interagency coordination on food safety regulation and programs.

This is not a new issue, of course. CSO took an in-depth look at the risk management efforts in industry and government for the meat industry and found some similar concerns that the GAO highlighted today. See “Uneasy on the Range,” from our archives, here.

— Michael Goldberg