Tracking America's food is no easy task. But the current system and division of federal food oversight is ridiculous. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carry much of the load. But their splitting of duties can result in oversight based on arbitrary distinctions, rather than which agency has the best expertise. As a result, serious public health concerns (such as outbreaks) linger on for longer than they should, with the problems not reaching the right agency experts without considerable delays.
But don't take GAP’s word for it - see how convoluted the system is for yourself. The dinner table image below features several common foods you would come across at a family meal. But which agency is in charge of what? Just how many agencies are looking after your dinner table?
Don't be chicken - you're right to guess that the USDA regulates fowl. The chicken’s eggs, however? Completely different story! The FDA regulates eggs when they are in the shell, but once the egg is cracked and becomes an "egg product," USDA's back in charge.
The FDA regulates soda…mostly. What's inside your can of sugar-beverage is regulated by the FDA - including the labeling on the outside of the can. However, if the soda makes an advertising claim on the outside of the can that is targeted to children, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) steps in!
What is your regulatory agency watching? As a general rule, the USDA regulates meat, poultry, and processed egg products – and the FDA everything else. Oh, but it’s the Federal Trade Commission that regulates food advertising and packaging claims – or what’s on your TV Dinner box! Because, hey, the FTC performs many other food-related tasks, like…hmm.
I'll take what's on tap! The Environmental Protection Agency develops and enforces environmental laws, and establishes water quality standards for tap water. But wait - bottled water is regulated by the FDA! Even if that comes from the tap!
Easy one! The FDA. Wait, the USDA! Wait! Actually, it depends on what's on your pizza. Does your pizza have meat on it? If so, the USDA is regulating it. Plain cheese? The FDA gets that slice of the pie! Under the system, each agency performs its own pizza inspections. The USDA inspects meat pizza plants daily. Meanwhile, the FDA will inspect the same plant's cheese pizza every one to five years. Does that make any sense?
Raise your glass if you guessed that the Treasury Department is regulating the beer! The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is responsible for administering and regulating the operations of distilleries, wineries, and breweries.
Seafood is an easy one! The FDA, of course! Well, that is unless the fish is catfish, in which case, the USDA regulates it. Oh, and don’t forget the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is actually under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. This office has concurrent seafood regulatory power with the FDA. Unlike FDA, NMFS inspection is purely voluntary for seafood companies – which actually pay NMFS to grade the quality of their product.
Apparently, water is food. Well not all water, just bottled water. The FDA considers bottled water a "food" and is responsible for assuring bottled water safety. If the water is from the tap, it is not considered food and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the water's safety.
Food Safety Stats
Food Safety! Read all about it! The Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides important information to prevent foodborne illness. For example, CDC publishes food safety statistics and produces educational literature on safe food handling and preparation.
The salad could be a mix of FDA oversight (if it had croutons) or USDA's problem (with meat). But it's the Environmental Protection Agency that handles one of the biggest consumer concerns with leafy greens - the use of pesticides and fertilizer.