By Toni Clarke
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers proposed a bill on Wednesday that would create a single food safety agency by bringing together the oversight functions of the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.
Democratic Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois and Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, told reporters on a conference call that the bill would create a single federal agency with an administrator directly appointed by the President.
The bill, introduced as the Safe Food Act of 2015, was co-sponsored by 10 other Democrats and aims to elevate food safety at a time when the U.S. food supply is increasingly sourced from abroad.
"The fragmented Federal food safety system and outdated laws preclude an integrated, system-wide approach to preventing foodborne illness," it says.
Each year, 48 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, suffer from foodborne illness. More than 100,000 are hospitalized and thousands die, according to federal data.
Currently most of the responsibility for food safety lies with the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees meat, poultry and processed eggs.
The bill would, among other things, consolidate food safety authority for inspections, enforcement and labeling, provide authority to recall unsafe food, and improve foreign food import inspections.
In January 2011, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law. The goal was to increase food safety by shifting the focus of regulators to preventing contamination rather than just responding to it. The lawmakers said their goal is to build on that.
They said greater public awareness of food safety makes this an opportune time to initiate change, though it would not happen overnight. They did not give an estimate of how much it would cost to create a single agency but said it would save money in the long run by improving efficiency.
DeLauro said that until the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act "the whole issue of food safety was a step-child at the FDA."
A spokeswoman for the FDA, Jennifer Dooren, said the agency does not comment on proposed legislation.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)