In his radio address yesterday, President Obama announced the creation of a Food Safety Working Group. It will consist of cabinet secretaries and senior officials and will advise the President on how antiquated food laws can be updated for the 21st century, how coordination between various federal agencies can be improved and how current and new food laws and regulations can be effectively enforced.
While this is definitely a step in the right direction, I wish the President had gone further. It is time to create a National Food Safety Review Board to continually review the workings of the various federal agencies involved in food safety and advise the President. An ideal NFSRB would be composed of members who are not presently associated with the executive branch but have extensive previous experience in different aspects of food safety: food laws and regulations, food policy, foodborne disease surveillance and epidemiology, public health microbiology and food microbiology, food production and processing, food sanitation and hygiene and inspection of food processing facilities). The tasks outlined by the President for his Food Safety Working Group will be more effectively performed by an independent review board than a group comprised of the secretaries of the agencies involved in foods safety and the senior officials from those departments.
Specifically, a NFRSB should have the following responsibilities:
- Periodic review of the priorities of each agency involved in food safety and how effectively they are implementing actions to address these objectives
- Review whether additional food safety funds requested by the President and appropriated by the Congress are being used for the purposes for which they were provided and whether the implementation has had a measurable positive impact on food safety
- Example 1: If the Food and Drug Administration is provided additional funding for more food inspectors, the NFSRB will determine how many additional inspections of national and international food processing facilities were conducted and what was the demonstrable public health impact of these increased inspections
- Example 2: If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is provided additional funding to improve surveillance and accelerate outbreak recognition and investigations, the NFSRB will assess the impact of any new programs implemented by CDC to ensure that these steps have resulted in a measurable positive impact
- During the investigation of major foodborne disease outbreaks by the public health agencies and food regulatory agencies, the NFSRB will have a facilitation and coordination role and will ensure that all critical and relevant data are being shared between the agencies in a timely manner.
- Within a reasonable period after the acute phase of an outbreak investigation is completed, the NFSRB will conduct a thorough review of the investigation with respect to the performance of the agencies involved. The NFSRB will issue a report within a specified time period indicating what was done right and what could be improved.
- The NFSRB will work with the federal agencies to make sure that information about the outbreak investigation is released to the interested parties and the general public in a timely manner.
- The NFSRB will assess the funding needs of the agencies involved in food safety and provide input to the President for the next budget