Food Labeling

Trump's Proposal To Reform Federal Food Regulations Is Long Overdue

Our current system of federal food regulation is expensive and dangerous

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A U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspector examines a shipment of imported frozen meat at the Port of New Orleans November 21, 2013. Photo credit: R. Anson Eaglin/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Last week, the Trump administration proposed to significantly overhaul several federal regulatory agencies. Food-safety oversight is one of the key elements of the proposal.

"Food safety programs, now overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), would be consolidated into a new Federal Food Safety Agency," Politico reported. That agency would become part of the USDA.

The Trump administration says the food-safety proposal, part of its larger plan to consolidate various agency responsibilities, would shift thousands of current FDA and USDA employees and billions of dollars into a new Federal Food Safety Agency.

The need for reform is real. The USDA and FDA currently operate under completely different food-safety laws and regulations. When it comes to food safety, which agency oversees what foods (and what the agency's process is for regulating those foods) has long seemed arbitrary. One classic example is that frozen cheese pizzas sold at your local grocer are regulated by the FDA, while frozen pepperoni pizzas are regulated by the USDA.

That's a charming distinction. But, as I wrote in a piece for the New Food Economy last year, overlapping USDA and FDA jurisdiction, responsibilities, staff, and duties can help spur dangerous delays and other problems that have real-world consequences.

In the piece, I presented the results of a FOIA request I'd made that revealed the USDA and FDA had bickered and stalled over which agency should take charge of a critical food recall—batches of potentially deadly (thanks to undeclared allergens) egg rolls—to the extent that I argued the ineptitude clearly called into question the fitness of both agencies.

"In fact, records I obtained through my FOIA request show it took at least six days of foot dragging and back-and-forth emails for the agencies to determine which one would even announce a recall," I wrote. "Considering, again, that this… recall was the most serious classification USDA can assign, that delay could have cost lives."

Would the Trump administration's plan prevent such potentially deadly errors? Maybe. Maybe not.

Critics were quick to pounce on the plans. Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told GovExec.com that she was skeptical of the proposal largely because of the messenger, rather than the message.

"Such changes should be done by an 'administration that is thoughtful, good at managing details, respectful of the important job federal regulators do, and capable of working collaboratively with Congress and agencies to make it successful,'" Sorscher said.

Marion Nestle suggested the Trump administration proposal was perhaps "just another attempt to distract us from more pressing matters."

Interestingly, similar proposals to consolidate food-safety oversight have been kicking around for decades. In 2015, for example, the Obama administration proposed to shift most food-safety oversight to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a cabinet-level agency that houses the FDA.

Nestle greeted the 2015 proposal with slightly different language than she did the Trump administration's plans. "Wow!" she wrote. "Food safety advocates in and out of government have been pushing for something like this since the early 1990s."

Georgia State University Law School Professor Timothy Lytton—with whom I serve on the board of the nonprofit Academy of Food Law & Policy—wrote this week in an excellent piece for the scholarly website The Conversation that, whether the Trump administration proposal is a good one or not, the idea is unlikely to come to fruition for a variety of reasons. Lytton lists political obstacles, industry opposition, costs, and uncertainty over the benefits of the proposal as likely hurdles.

Lytton's skepticism is well placed. Politico agriculture reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich tweeted this week that she asked Sen. Pat Roberts (R–Kan.), who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, about the prospects for moving authority over SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits from the USDA to HHS. That, too, is part of the Trump administration plan, and Roberts immediately labeled it dead in the water.

"I haven't looked at it because we're not going to do it," Roberts told Bottemiller Evich. "Is that succinct enough for you?"

Lytton says the plan won't work. Nestle says it doesn't go far enough. Roberts says it's dead (at least in part). All three might be right.

Regardless of whether a proposal to streamline federal food-safety regulation comes from the left or the right, the key questions remain the same under Trump's proposal as under Obama's: Will a new federal food-safety agency help eliminate redundancies, inefficiencies, needless regulatory burdens, and inconsistencies? Will it improve food safety?

If it would do all those things, then I'd be happy to support the proposal. Until that's all confirmed, though, I'm not going to hold my breath.

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36 responses to “Trump's Proposal To Reform Federal Food Regulations Is Long Overdue

  1. If the CSPI and Marion Nestle are against it, it’s probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. If there were some way to get the SPLC to denounce it, you’d know for sure.

    1. Well… the SPLC does seem to see white supremacists in their rice crispies most mornings. Being a grain product, the denouncement has already been made by association with their hallucinatory ramblings. Bingo – it’s a trifecta.

      1. My best friend’s ex-wife makes Bucks75/hr on the laptop. She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her income with big fat bonus was over Bucks9000 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site….. http://easyjob.club

  2. Both have already been replaced by social media reviews.

  3. Anyone who believes a Trump proposal would be designed to “improve food safety” (rather than to reduce regulation, increase profits, cut government costs, please industry, or the like) is as dumb as a box of stale Twinkies covered in stupid sauce.

    1. I spent eight years surpassing my “Obama proposes it, therefore it’s idiotic, corrupt, or Unconstitutional” reactions. Do you think you could make an effort to contain your “It’s Trump, therefore it’s evil” reaction just until there are enough details to argue about?

      1. The current administration has been demonstrated to have enough industry shills and backwater kooks to enable a reasoning observer to reach a reliable conclusion.

        One can be motivated by aspirations other than improvement of food safety without being evil.

        1. God, you’re tiresome. This whole Trump is a evil Hitlerian lout is fucken fricken nauseatingly tiresome.

          Get a new shtick already.

          1. Oh, come on. It’s a parody account, like OBL. Not quite as good, though. But the author seems to be doing the copy-paste thing less in recent days, and doing more original material that actually relates to the articles. So I have faith that it’ll improve over time.

            4/10 for now.

        2. “The current administration has been demonstrated to have enough industry shills and backwater kooks to enable a reasoning observer to reach a reliable conclusion.”

          And more than enough fucking imbeciles afflicted with TDS. Seek help, you pathetic excuse for humanity.

          1. Are you hicks genuinely dumb enough to believe that the Trump administration is going to champion food safety?

            Not even homeschooling or yahoo religious schools could explain that level of ignorance.

            1. Are you hicks genuinely dumb enough to believe that the Trump administration is going to champion food safety?

              Arthur L. Hicklib’s afraid the barista’s going to put spoiled milk in his frappucino if BLONORD BLUMPH isn’t stopped immediately!

              1. I don’t expect food safety to change much during the Trump administration.

                I understand that anyone who expects the Trump administration to champion food safety deserves disrespect.

    2. First they are going to deregulate Ensure as a way to save Social Security and Medicare.

      So, caveat emptor Arthur, caveat emptor.

    3. “…a box of stale Twinkies covered in stupid sauce.”
      The breakfast of annoying assholes, double on the sauce.

    4. Buy your own food freeloader. It’s summer so grow your own. Even a lazy commie like you can do it. Get off your ass.

      1. I buy my own food. I also subsidize farmers and rural residents. I am able to afford this consequent to work, skill, and a preference for reason.

        1. I also subsidize farmers and rural residents.

          Giving handjobs for cash in the back-alleys of your urban Calhoun experiment is hardly subsidizing farmers.

          1. Paying plenty of taxes to help fund the annual big-government-handouts-to-farmers legislation is subsidizing farmers.

            1. After feeding at the taxpayer-funded trough, those parasitic charity cases then don their Trump hats and rant about how people should stand on their own two feet and oppose socialism.

              Charming people. Economically inadequate, dumb, intolerant, backward, and devoid of self-awareness.

              1. Charming people. Economically inadequate, dumb, intolerant, backward, and devoid of self-awareness.

                “The Hicklib’s Guide to Life.”

            2. There’s only so much your coffee purchases provide, hicklib.

              1. I don’t drink coffee.

                American farmers do not produce coffee.

                Other than that, though, great comment!

              2. I don’t drink coffee.

                American farmers do not produce coffee.

                Other than that, though, great comment!

  4. Kind of a pity he can’t do what REALLY needs to be done to get the Federal hydra under control; have a random selection made of half the GS employees, and fire them. If any agency happens, by random chance, to lose all non-appointed employees, abolish it.

    1. In theory agency consolidation is a great opportunity to fire redundant employees. Sadly, in reality it hardly ever works out that way.

      1. Reorgs are always a good chance to change who is in charge.

        Personnel is policy.

        MAGA

  5. “”Such changes should be done by an ‘administration that is thoughtful, good at managing details, respectful of the important job federal regulators do, and capable of working collaboratively with Congress and agencies to make it successful,'” Sorscher said.”

    Or to put it more succinctly, “Such changes should be made by an administration that wouldn’t want to make them!”

  6. Will a new federal food-safety agency help eliminate redundancies, inefficiencies, needless regulatory burdens, and inconsistencies?

    I’m not sure the exec branch can do much on its own no matter how it is organized. This ain’t the private sector where da boss has the real power over hire/fire. This is checks-and-balances where congress has the real power over funding and legislative authority.

    This is mostly a congressional oversight vacuum. As long as Congress caps its own size, the oversight function is what gets stretched thinner since the govt budget/authorities keep growing. The committee chairs get more powerful (corrupt) re assignments. And the subcommittee work where this stuff would happen gets farmed out to unaccountable staffers.

  7. The USDA and FDA currently operate under completely different food-safety laws and regulations.

    Find one example of contradictory regulations and use that as an excuse to hand the whole thing over to the WHO.

    1. I did not know about the pizza thing, and am gobsmacked at the stupidity of apparent mission drift. It proves congressional oversight is in fact now a physical impossibility seeing a reform attempt come from inside the executive branch. Does a pepperoni pizza get cultivated or herded? Get along little doggies…
      Personally, USDA oversight should stop after the silo or grain mill and end at the slaughterhouse.

      1. I had a pancetta, mushroom and onion pizza last night. Dee-lish.

  8. Trump fans are going to have to face political reality. While Trump is President, there are going to be a lot of possibly good ideas for reform or improvement in government that won’t get tried?because Trump is President. Too many folks fear the consequences of letting Trump manage change. Democrats went through that with Obama. Now the shoe is on the other foot. It may be bad for the country either way, but it is what it is. You elect someone the other side distrusts deeply, and policy prospects are going to be colored by attitudes about the person in charge. Also, responding by calling the other guys stupid, racist, or what have you, just makes it all worse.

    1. You elect someone the other side distrusts deeply, and policy prospects are going to be colored by attitudes about the person in charge.

      The New Left and its descendants have been playing this game for 50-plus years, so it’s not like we should expect anything different this time.

  9. Everything important Trump does is portrayed by some cunt somewhere as a distraction from serious issues.

    1. “Trump’s Proposal To Reform Federal Food Regulations Is Long Overdue”

      Trump does what Presidents should have done for decades, and somehow it’s Trump’s proposal that is “overdue”.

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