There is no crisis right now in the American food supply. There are no headlines warning about deadly food-borne illnesses or massive product recalls. In fact, the dozen or so federal agencies responsible for ensuring our food is safe do a pretty good job.
This quiet, drama-free moment is a good time for federal officials to dispassionately consider how to make the splintered system even better. That's what President Barack Obama and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are prodding Congress to do.
In the 2016 budget Obama submitted to Congress this month, he proposed consolidating all the agencies with a role in food safety into one agency. Gillibrand has introduced legislation with the same objective.
The cornucopia of agencies splitting authority over inspections, enforcement and recalls is classic Washington. It's a bureaucratic tangle that defies logic, invites duplication and leads to overregulation.
For example, the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the safety of whole eggs in their shells. But the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service inspects whole eggs for appearance, condition of the shell and grading. And the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service oversees processed egg products.
A cheese pizza and its ingredients are regulated by the FDA. Add pepperoni and the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service gets involved because it regulates open-faced meat or poultry sandwiches. But closed-faced meat or poultry sandwiches are inspected by the FDA. Go figure.
This fractured system developed over time as Congress layered on laws to address specific concerns. Against all odds it has helped ensure that Americans don't have to worry too much about what they eat. Still, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year of food-borne diseases.
The consolidation of all critical responsibilities under one bureaucratic roof would make our food safety system better, more efficient and, by reducing duplication, might even save a few taxpayer dollars.