Food Safety: When Regulatory Jurisdictional Battles and Public Safety Collide

Food is a necessity for life. It should therefore surprise few that the federal government regulates the production and processing of food before it reaches our dinner tables. Labels indicating some meats are “USDA-Prime” or confirming that the product was inspected and approved as safe before delivery to the grocery store reflect this regulatory role.

While labels may make the regulation apparent, which part of the administrative state handles that regulation can be less clear. Two agencies: the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — part of the Department of Health and Human Services — both have jurisdiction over the foods we consume. Which agency handles what is not always apparent. Recent illnesses and deaths involving baby formula and spinach — both under the FDA’s inspection jurisdiction — have emphasized that regulatory structure can have life-or-death consequences. This has led some on both sides of the aisle to suggest a revamp of how we handle food safety regulation. One group contends the FDA should take the lead (Food being literally in the name); a second argues the USDA should run point (agriculture being the first step to food production), and a third group argues creating a separate agency entirely would be the best solution. The FDA itself has proposed an internal reorganization to emphasize its food safety mandate.

This panel of FDA and USDA veterans whose service spanned multiple administrations examine the questions (1) how safe is our food, (2) is a reorganization of the agencies that handle food safety necessary to achieve the maximum level of safety, and (3) how should such a reorganization look.

Dr. Mindy Brashears


International Center for Food Industry Excellence, Texas Tech University

Frank Yiannas

Former Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response


Stephen Vaden


United States Court of International Trade

FDA & Health
Regulatory Process

Federalist Society’s Administrative Law & Regulation Practice Group

The Federalist Society and Regulatory Transparency Project take no position on particular legal or public policy matters. All expressions of opinion are those of the speaker(s). To join the debate, please email us at [email protected].

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