Government’s pursuit of food safety makes tiny step forward – maybe




During the campaign and several times since, President Obama promised to do “everything possible” to increase the safety of America’s food supply.

In what must be considered a very small step, but a step nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that their top managers would walk side-by-side through barnyards and farm fields to help develop new food safety rules.



Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says, “President Obama, like most Americans, wants immediate improvements in our food safety system.

“As such, we are pulling together all our best resources – state and federal – to improve the safety of our foods and to work with growers to protect and promote the health of our nation.”

Sebelius’ counterpart, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, says his agency is committed to working to ensure that Americans have access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food.

He adds that the tag-teaming of food safety is another example of an “innovative and aggressive effort to strengthen protections against unsafe food and food-borne illness.”

The White House has shuffled out the joined-at-the-hip Sebelius and Vilsack team more times in the past nine month than the Bush Administration ever did with his HHS and Ag secretaries, according to a friend at the OMB who actually tallies things like this.

But bliss at the worker bee level may not be as easy to generate.

FDA and USDA inspectors with whom I’ve worked over the years say relations between many middle managers in the food safety sections of both agencies has been so sour that it would curdle milk.

In part, some of the intramural angst comes from sparring over budgets (who gets more and why,) regulations (who can and should enforce food safety laws,) and blame-laying (who will Congress and the press dump on after the next massive outbreak of E. coli, salmonella or some other food-borne pathogen breaks loose.)

Leanne Skelton, who heads the Fresh Products Branch of the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, has 22 years working with the fruit and vegetable industry.  She is being loaned to the FDA for six months as that agency attempts to develop new safety regulations for produce.

Through the initiative, FDA is gathering information and seeking feedback on safety rules from the fresh produce industry, including small and organic farmers.

Here is a link to Tuesday’s announcement.

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