There's a food fight going down in Washington D.C. According to a recent report by FiveThirtyEight, the USDA and the FDA are fighting over a change in command. According to FiveThirtyEight, for years, the U.S. Codex Office and has always reported to the USDA's food safety division, but now, they're switching gears and reporting to the USDA's trade division instead.
The U.S. Codex Office oversees our country's role in the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international collaboration between 180 countries designed to set food safety standards worldwide. The standards provide set policies for countries without proper expertise in food safety measures, and therefore encourage trade by setting universal guidelines.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s report, some agencies, such as the International Dairy Foods Association, praised the change in the chain of command because it could eliminate trade barriers that have really nothing to do with public health. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb also celebrated the move. However, not everyone within the FDA is as cheerful about it.
Stephen Ostroff, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, penned a public letter to the USDA in which he outlined his grievances. According to Ostroff, one of the primary consequences of the move would be the intermingling of scientific research with public health standards. In his letter, he discusses that a congressionally-appointed team advised against allowing the Codex to report to the trade sector, partly because it could mean looser regulations on livestock.
“Conflating science and trade by putting them in the same mission area will, at a minimum, affect perceptions of scientific integrity and undermine the U.S. trade positions,” the panel said.
Some in the FDA are concerned that setting up additional trade regulations could weaken the trade positions of the United States with other countries, and that the Codex would lose its value as a "science-based enterprise," if it transitioned to a sector that values trade over food, The High Plains Journal reports.
Though these policies may impact consumer health in the US anytime soon, it's worth raising an eyebrow when there’s conflict between the two government agencies tasked with keeping our food safe to eat.