Right now, the regulatory jurisdiction for the Food and Drug Administration is huge, overseeing by most estimates approximately one-fourth of the U.S. economy. And in recent months it has expanded into regulating the marketing of tobacco products. Presumably in the future, the mandate for the agency will continue to expand as the Food Safety Modernization Act becomes law as well as other proposals yet to be introduced in the next Congress that may one day become law as well.
Jurisdiction over food regulation is split among different areas of the federal government – principally the United States Department of Agriculture and the FDA. In the past, I have touched on the subject of a single food agency (See “Taking the F out of FDA“, for example) in blog posts and recently in one of my video conversations with former FDA Commissioner, Dr. David Kessler.
In fact, the possibility of creating a single food agency has been part of the public discourse for a long time and in 1999 Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation to house the responsibility for food safety with one agency. This week, she introduced the legislation again with the Single Food Safety Agency Act of 2010.
Change is already presumably coming to the FDA with the pending passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act that will put into place an entire new set of responsibilities for the FDA to ensure food safety.
“However,” the Congresswoman said, “our efforts to reform the food safety system must not end there because the jurisdictional overlaps and complicated regulatory structure will continue to hamper our efforts to make our food supply safer. That is why I am re-introducing legislation that would create a single independent food safety agency that would help reduce the potential for future outbreaks, implement the best food safety practices, and eliminate the jurisdictional issues we have faced. Ultimately, a single food agency solely focused on protecting American consumers is critical to ensuring the safety of our food supply and protecting the public health.”
As noted above, the FDA is huge and change at the agency does not take place very quickly at all. A simple guidance can take years (a guidance issued last week on the procedure for speakers during the open public comment period of advisory committee meetings is a case on point). Reducing the scope of the agency might begin to make it a bit more efficient. But it is also hard to envision the upheaval that a new division of responsibilities might entail, in the end leaving us with not one big agency that takes a long time to change, but two.
Obviously we are at the end of this Congress. But the reintroduction of this legislation indicates that there is an appetite for further change (haha) and that the subject of a single agency will live on.