President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night didn’t include significant mentions of food or agriculture, but what he did bring up regarding the inadequate structure of government agencies, or Regulatory Chaos as we like to call it, has major play in the areas FIC serves.
From Obama’s speech:
We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.
The example of how salmon regulation is split up sounds very familiar to those involved in food policy. The inconsistencies between USDA and FDA regulations are quite ridiculous, with spinach and other produce waiting years for an FDA inspection, while meat and poultry plants have USDA visits on a daily basis. And that’s just a little glimpse of the seemingly random set-up of our food system maintenance.
But Obama appears committed to making changes that could have big impacts for food when it comes to more effective oversight. He states:
In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote and we will push to get it passed.
The idea of bringing more consistency among agencies that oversee our nation’s food supply is nothing new. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has been pushing for a single federal food agency since 1999. The regulatory divide we have currently not only creates gaps when it comes to food inspections, but it also lacks congruency in worker protections, which are essential for food safety.
The recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act has for the first time established safeguards for employees who report food violations enforced by the FDA. However, the same has yet to be done for the USDA. That leaves a huge chunk of our workers left in the dust but whose protections are just as important. Whether it’s passing Congressional legislation that also covers these employees or restructuring the agencies in a way that benefits all food workers, we need to secure the safety of those whose voices are key in regards to the integrity of our food supply.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.