WASHINGTON - A new Food Safety Administration could be written into law by the end of next year to replace the patchwork regulatory system now in place, supporters in Congress said.
Proponents said creation of a single agency would lead to a more efficient food inspection system and improved safeguards against food-borne illness. At present, a half-dozen entities have a hand in food inspection.
Legislation to enact the new agency was filed in the House and Senate. Senate sponsor Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said backers would press for "completion next year."
Several consumer groups said they supported the legislation.
Two food-industry groups said said the idea was worth exploring and noted the National Academy of Sciences was due to report next August on the concept and food safety overall.
"We look forward to working with ... legislators to bring new methods of protecting consumers to the marketplace," said the Grocery Manufacturers of America, one of the trade groups.
The National Food Processors Association said "this is a good time" to "determine what changes are needed" to improve the food inspection system.
Several hundred million dollars are spent annually on food safety, chiefly by USDA, which oversees meat inspection, and the Food and Drug Administration, which has jurisdiction over processed foods.
Supporters said they expected the new cabinet-level agency would be more efficent and have more uniform rules than the current system. The lead House sponsor, California Democrat Vic Fazio, said "we will let the experts" decide whether to change inspection regimes for particular products.
"We are going to be thinking about food inspection in its totality," Durbin said, pointing to the emergence of systems like the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems that try to prevent contamination and mounting concern about microbial and chemical contaminants in food.
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