Washington, DC — Oct. 10, 2001 — “This hearing is especially timely because our current federal food safety guidelines are ill-equipped to deal with today’s challenges,” Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, testified today before the Senate Government Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management. He called for the designation of a single federal agency to safeguard the food supply.

More than a dozen federal agencies currently regulate various parts of the food supply under 35 laws. “This patchwork quilt creates inconsistencies, gaps, overlaps and a duplication of effort that is becoming increasingly unworkable,” he said. “Clearly, no one designing a regulatory system to maintain the wholesomeness and integrity of our food would ever design anything remotely resembling what we have today.

“Should a crisis arise — real or manufactured as a hoax — the deficiencies of the current system would become glaringly obvious. For example, let’s assume a tampering hoax is staged. The public needs rapid reassurance from a credible source [that the product is safe]. Since it is rare that a single agency has complete jurisdiction over the entire scope of a major food safety problem, it has been our experience that none of the agencies step forward in times of crisis.

“Far more typically, the public is faced with a lengthy delay while our overlapping bureaucracies creak into some sort of action, culminating in a message to the public.”

In May 2000, the FMI Board of Directors adopted a policy calling for the government to centralize food safety resources and oversight in a single federal agency. At today’s hearing, Hammonds said the need for such a system was compelling then; now “it is imperative.”

Designate Agency, Don’t Create New One

Hammonds emphasized that FMI supports
designating a single food agency — not creating an entirely new agency. We believe too much expertise would be lost, too much of our existing credibility would be squandered, and too much time would be wasted if we attempt to create an entirely new agency from scratch.

“In our view, the best course of action would be to centralize resources, responsibility, and authority within one of the existing agencies then elevate the status of this group to a level appropriate to our new challenges.”