Food Safety

Changes Needed to Minimize Unsafe Chemicals in Food Gao ID: RCED-94-192 September 26, 1994

GAO identified five basic weaknesses in the overall federal structure and systems for monitoring chemicals in food. First, fragmentation of responsibility among multiple agencies results in inefficiencies and gaps in federal monitoring activities. Second, chemicals posing similar risks may be regulated differently under different laws. Third, federal agencies rely on programs to detect unsafe chemicals in food rather than preventing these problems from developing. Fourth, agencies lack strong enforcement authorities to adequately deter or penalize violators. Fifth, similar problems exist for imported foods, over which the United States has even less control. GAO summarized this report and GAO/RCED-94-158 in testimony before Congress; see: Food Safety: Fundamental Changes Needed to Improve Monitoring of Unsafe Chemicals in Food, by John W. Harman, Director of Food and Agriculture Issues, before the Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, House Committee on Government Operations. GAO/T-RCED-94-311, Sept. 28, 1994 (seven pages).

GAO found that: (1) because of fragmented responsibility, federal efforts to assess the risks posed by chemicals are inconsistent and may produce questionable results; (2) the different standards and regulations governing the approval and use of chemicals in food could expose consumers to questionable risks; (3) federal enforcement mechanisms do not prevent contaminated food products from entering the food supply and do not effectively penalize violators or deter future violations; (4) ensuring the safety of agricultural products is often problematic because federal agencies have less control over imported foods; (5) although meat and poultry can be imported only from countries with equivalent inspection systems, no such requirement is in place for other types of food products; and (6) the federal government has limited assurance that many imported products have been adequately inspected in the country of origin.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.