- An agricultural concern is found in the report of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), “Driving the Fox from the Henhouse,” and it's the issue of the revolving door between the agencies that monitor food safety and the industries they regulate.
“Among survey respondents from FSIS [US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety Inspection Service], a majority (51 percent) had previously worked for “a food producer, processor, distributor, or trade organization.” That percentage was 20 percent at the FDA [Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration] and 10 percent at the ARS [USDA, Agricultural Research Service]. Among respondents who had been in industry, around half had been there for more than five years, although a majority (65 percent) had worked longer at their agency than for industry.”
“A series of questions explored individuals’ confidence in the safety of various classes of foods. All recipients were asked to rate the safety of imported foods, USDA recipients were asked about meat and poultry, and FDA recipients were asked about eggs, seafood, fruits, vegetables, and processed foods. Respondents rated their confidence in the safety of each food category as ‘Completely confident,’ ‘Mostly confident,’ ‘Somewhat confident,’ ‘Not at all confident,’ or ‘Don’t know.’
- “Both FDA and USDA respondents rated the safety of imported foods lower than the safety of the other categories. Only 35 percent of respondents were completely or mostly confident in the safety of imported foods, while 21 percent were not at all confident.
- “Only 45 percent of FDA respondents were completely or mostly confident in the safety of fruits and vegetables, with 10 percent expressing no confidence.
- “Seafood and eggs fared slightly better, with 49 and 50 percent of FDA respondents respectively reporting they were completely or mostly confident in the safety of both categories. Five and 10 percent of FDA respondents respectively reported that they were not at all confident in these food categories.
- “Processed foods received the highest marks among FDA respondents, with 62 percent reporting that they were completely or mostly confident in processed food safety and only 6 percent reporting that they were not at all confident.
- “Meat and poultry received a vote of confidence from USDA respondents, with 75 percent reporting that they were completely or mostly confident in these foods’ safety and only 5 percent reporting that they were not at all confident.”
With regard to a question about the impact of consolidating all food safety activities into a single agency, those who said such an action would improve food safety (41 percent) outnumbered those who felt it would worsen food safety activities (25 percent).
“By a margin of 71 percent to 5 percent, survey respondents said ‘requiring each food production facility to conduct a science-based hazard analysis and implement preventive controls’ would improve rather than worsen food safety. This outcome appears to support an HACCP-based food safety system, which has been controversial.”
Similarly a large percentage (75 percent vs. 3 percent) said “‘increasing the frequency of food safety inspections conducted by the FDA’ would improve rather than worsen food safety.” A similar margin of respondents (73 percent to 3 percent) favored a comprehensive system to “trace food products through the production and distribution system.”
Likewise, “by a margin of 70 percent to 2 percent, survey respondents said that ‘establishing strong whistleblower protections for private or public employees who report problems affecting the food supply’ would improve rather than worsen food safety.”
Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.agpolicy.org.