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Single Food Agency: Theory vs. Reality

The Obama Administration’s recent budget proposal for FY 2016 endorsed the concept of establishing a single federal food safety agency—reviving discussion on what has been a long-standing issue. This initiative has generated many of the same talking points that have surrounded this topic for decades, including everyone’s favorite reference to the absurdity of a system in which the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) maintains processing oversight of a cheese pizza until pepperoni is added, at which point the oversight shifts to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (USDA FSIS).

There is near universal agreement that no one would design such a system if they were working off a proverbial clean sheet of paper. While this is undoubtedly correct, it forces us to juxtapose this theoretical point against the 100+ years of oversight, policy, and paperwork generated by the FDA, FSIS, and its predecessor agencies, not to mention other relevant players such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and countless other state, local, and private parties. This history raises enormous practical and political barriers to change. We have a status quo maintained by a dizzying array of interests, both public and private, scattered through various government, departments, agencies, congressional committees, trade associations, labor unions, etc.  Keep Reading

Can Meta-analysis Help Biosafety Research?

Santa Clara University Biology Professor Michelle Marvier and her colleagues have recently published a meta-analysis of field studies that concluded that Bt crops are generally more benign for non-target invertebrates than chemical insecticides. A second meta-analysis of lab studies found no harmful effects of Bt proteins on honeybees. Although these reports will probably fail to convince skeptics, they raise an important question: Can meta-analysis be used to tease meaningful results out of a series of studies that, taken individually, are inconclusive? Given the cost and methodological complexity of ecological studies, it’s an important question. Keep Reading

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