FDA official says agency needs more policing power

The Food and Drug Administration's top food safety official told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday that the agency needs more powers to police the nation's food supply -- a position opposite a proposal that recently came out of the president's advisory group on imports.

The rare admission came near the end of a six-hour hearing in which Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., grilled FDA Food Protection Commissioner David Acheson on the agency's supervision of imports amid recent food contamination problems.

"I compliment you, Dr. Acheson. You are the first person in many years to say that is what we need," DeLauro said.

The president's panel, made up of representatives from 12 departments and agencies, has not made final recommendations. But in a framework released this month, the group advocated a risk-based approach that stayed within the framework of FDA's current powers and resources.

DeLauro did not ask Acheson what new authorities the agency might seek, and Acheson refused to speak to reporters after the hearing.

"They've had a long day and we need to get them out of here," FDA spokesman Michael Herndon said, referring to Acheson and a regional operations official.

DeLauro asked Acheson if the agency needs new powers while questioning him about FDA's inability to ban food from specific countries.

Instead, FDA can issue an import alert that requires food coming from flagged countries to submit paperwork requirements before its goods can enter the country. A food firm is cleared of the requirement once it crosses the border five times without a problem.

FDA is working on an overhaul of its food safety program slated to be made public soon that likely will include a need for new powers, Acheson said.

"I'm a bit taken aback, to be honest with you, Dr. Acheson," DeLauro said. "What has FDA been doing if we're starting at the beginning of this process?"

DeLauro said that since 1994, FDA has considered and mostly abandoned three different tactics for beefing up import safeguards. These include establishing equivalency standards the Agriculture Department implemented in 1967.

The chairwoman was concerned that FDA lacks a process to formally evaluate other countries' food safety systems. Acheson admitted FDA should be learning about the water quality in other countries and the manufacturing practices in foreign facilities, not just inspecting food at the borders.

DeLauro tried to corner Acheson into answering whether FDA should collect user fees from the import industry or whether the number of ports importers can use should be limited.

Both provisions are included in import safety legislation introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats. Acheson ducked the first question and would only say that restricting ports could receive a negative economic analysis because the action likely would lead prohibited ports to shut down.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.