Tom Vilsak, the new Agriculture Secretary said the U.S. needs to modernize its food safety system before it tackles the issue of whether responsibility for protecting what Americans eat should be reorganized from the current system, where multiple agencies are sometimes not communicating with one another or, worse yet, working at cross purposes, to one single food agency.
"A modernized system would have as a goal prevention, early detection if it can't be prevented, and mitigation of any adverse impacts if something occurs," Vilsak said in a conference call with reporters. "I think before there can be any conversation about merging of entities or a single agency or anything of that sort, you've got to get the foundation right."
Vilsak addressed the Farm Bill, payment limits for farmers, international trade, childhood obesity, nutrition initiatives, Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) final regulation, renewable energy, bio-fuels, childhood obesity and nutrition and food safety. On the salmonella-tainted peanut butter epidemic, Vilsak stressed communication between agencies. "While there is nothing connected directly with USDA, it's not a product that we necessarily regulate; it is a product that could potentially get into some of the systems that we are responsible for, the school lunch programs and nutrition programs. So we want to make sure that everybody is aware of the concerns about peanut butter and are taking the steps necessary to guard against it."
For a complete transcript, http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?contentidonly=true&contentid=2009/01/0027.xml