Durbin hearing focuses on food safety, security

Durbin hearing focuses on food safety, security


WASHINGTON, DC—With more than a dozen different federal agencies responsible for the safety and security of the nation’s food supply, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Oct. 9 held a U.S. Senate hearing aimed at strengthening the patchwork approach to protecting consumers in the wake of our nation’s new concern about security and biological and chemical threats.

Durbin, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Oversight Subcommittee, which held the hearing, said while the United States continues to have the safest food supply in the world, the U.S. system has been plagued by duplication, overlap, turf wars and a lack of resources.

“Food security can no longer be separated from our national security,” said Durbin, who also serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “We must be vigilant and committed to keeping the food we eat as safe as possible.”

The Illinois senator said legislation he has introduced to consolidate all federal food safety responsibilities into a single, independent agency has taken on new urgency because of a possibly heightened need to respond quickly and effectively to any acts of bioterrorism or agroterrorism.

“I did not call this hearing today to create false concern. I called this hearing because we need to make changes to a system in which chronic shortcomings could turn critical,” Durbin said. “My statement is not meant to lessen the tragedies of the families who have lost loved ones as a result of foodborne illness. It is to emphasize just how deadly such pathogens can be, whether they ravage one small child or are launched against a population.”

Currently, there are at least 12 different federal agencies and 35 different laws governing food safety. With overlapping jurisdictions, federal agencies often lack accountability on food safety-related issues.

The non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has been unequivocal in its recommendation for consolidation of federal food safety programs. Over the past two decades, GAO has issued numerous reports on topics such as food recalls, food safety inspections and the transport of animal feeds. Each of these reports highlights the current fragmentation and inconsistent organization of the various agencies involved in food safety oversight.

Durbin has introduced legislation to establish a single, independent food safety agency in the 105th, 106th and now the 107th Congresses.

“In the past, my legislation has been focused on trying to make our food safety system more effective. With more than 5,000 deaths in the United States each year as a result of foodborne illness, we can and should do better,” Durbin said. “Today, my goal remains unchanged—the only real difference is September 11. Whether it’s undetected E. coli in an undercooked hamburger or a deliberate contamination of our food, we need to fix the system to safeguard against tragedy on any scale.”

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