This GAO photo shows examples of foods subject to fragmented federal oversight of food safety and quality.

GAO Backs National Food Safety Strategy

Its new report cites the 16 federal agencies involved in overseeing the safety and quality of the U.S. food supply.

A report posted Feb. 13 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) supports the experts who have called for a national food safety strategy. IN it, GAO cites that there are more than a dozen federal agencies involved in overseeing the safety and quality of the U.S. food supply.

"Although the U.S. food supply is generally considered safe, foodborne illness remains a costly, common public health problem," GAO notes. "The safety and quality of the food supply is governed by a system administered by 16 federal agencies. For example, one agency regulates frozen cheese pizzas, another agency regulates frozen pizzas with meat, and additional agencies regulate components of both. Food safety and government performance experts agree that there is a need to develop a national strategy to provide a framework for strengthening this system. We recommend that the Executive Office of the President lead the effort to develop such a strategy."

The report says experts agreed on the need for a national strategy during a two-day meeting GAO hosted last June, and that GAO recommended that USDA, the parent agency of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, describe interagency collaboration on food safety in its strategic and performance planning documents, but USDA hasn't fully implemented that. FSIS and FDA are the two agencies with primary food safety responsibility.

Roughly one in every six Americans, 48 million people, suffer a food-related illness each year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die as a result, CDC estimated in 2011.

The report says there should be high-level sustained leadership for the strategy, and it should identify resource requirements, monitor progress, and identify short- and long-term actions to improve the U.S. food safety oversight system.

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