A pair of senior House and Senate Democrats are offering legislation that would spin off the existing food safety functions of the Food and Drug Administration into a new, separate federal agency.

The Food Safety Administration Act introduced by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., would move FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Center for Veterinary Medicine, and Office of Regulatory Affairs from the  to a new Food Safety Administration.  Like the FDA, the new agency would be housed under the Department of Health and Human Services.

The bill’s proponents say would elevate food safety oversight at the federal level, something they argue is commonly an afterthought under the existing FDA structure.

The legislation represents a shift in strategy for Durbin and DeLauro, who have previously pushed creation of a single food safety agency that would have included the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates meat and poultry safety. 

Durbin is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee but not of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has Senate jurisdiction over FDA.

“Food safety is currently a second-class citizen at the Food and Drug Administration,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Right now, there are no food policy experts in charge of food safety at the FDA. That is unacceptable and contributes to a string of product contaminations and subsequent recalls that disrupt the supply chain, contribute to rising prices, and in many cases, result in consumer illness and death.”

FDA is responsible for the safety of 80% of the nation’s food supply, overseeing most foods other than those that fall under FSIS.

Durbin said FDA has been “plagued by one failure after another."

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“The sad reality is that FDA seems unwilling or unable to use their authority to protect Americans from preventable illness and death,” he said. “For that reason, Congresswoman DeLauro and I are introducing legislation to transfer all of FDA’s food responsibilities to a new agency that, we hope, will have more success in protecting the foods in our kids’ lunch boxes and on our dining room tables.”

The bill would require a Senate-confirmed leader to oversee the agency, something Durbin and DeLauro argue “will strengthen oversight of the food supply and enhance the industry’s ability to operate effectively.”

While the bill is unlikely to pass, the measure offers a stinging rebuke to the existing FDA leadership, which has recently come under fire for its handling of a nationwide infant formula shortage that can still be observed on store shelves.

Six other members of Congress are co-sponsoring the bill, including Nannette Diaz Barragán, D-Calif., who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has House jurisdiction over FDA. The legislation also is supported by the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth.

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