GAO Report Calls For More Transparency, Consistency In New FDA Food Safety Practices

In recent years, federal regulators have enacted a host of new regulations that are designed to improve food and nutritional safety in the United States, but a new report suggests that more needs to be done to ensure consistency and transparency in their decisions. 

On March 5, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report (PDF) on an investigation into the FDA’s food and safety nutrition program, which includes a number of recommendations to help improve what investigators saw as a positive trend in increasing food safety since the passage of the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

FSMA was signed into law in December 2010, and is considered the biggest change in food safety oversight in 70 years. The Act offered the FDA sweeping powers act on food poisoning outbreaks.

According to the GAO report, the FDA has published 33 proposed or final key regulations and 111 draft or final key guidance documents, primarily addressing food safety, from January 2011 through September 2017.

Despite the progress, the GAO called for better strategic planning by the agency to help meet its goals in a consistent and transparent manner.

“FDA has identified food safety- and nutrition-related activities that it plans to undertake in fiscal year 2018, but its time frames for such activities in the longer term are unclear. According to FDA officials, the agency plans to pursue the food safety and nutrition strategies identified in the FVM Program’s 10-year strategic plan,” the report notes. “However, the specific time frames for the activities that would support those strategies are unclear because FDA has not developed a plan that includes actions, priorities, and milestones to implement the strategic plan.”

The recommendations call for development of performance measures for food safety and nutrition-related objectives, and a complete plan that includes specific plans, actions and priorities for implementing the strategic plan.

In a response to the report, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a press release last week, noting that the GAO report highlights the progress the agency has made in preventing food poisoning outbreaks and making the food supply chain safer. He said the FDA has plans to address the GAO’s recommendations.

“FSMA represents the most significant change to the regulation of the food supply in decades. The FDA has been working hard to implement this modern framework for food safety; working in close coordination with states, industry and other partners,” Gottlieb wrote. “We want to make sure we’re accurately measuring our progress, and the impact of these new regulatory programs; and that we’re reporting those results to the public.”

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