The federal government could be doing more to achieve the goals of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and other food-safety efforts, according to a 46-page report published Thursday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The amount of food-safety oversight reported by the federal government varies between the nation’s two major food-safety agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The GAO report suggests that USDA and FDA need to better coordinate on a vision of a federal food-safety culture. That starts with communication.

“Fully addressing crosscutting efforts in individual strategic and performance planning documents is an important first step toward providing a comprehensive picture of federal food safety performance,” the GAO reported stated. “However, individual agencies’ documents do not provide an integrated perspective on federal food safety performance.”

In 2011, GAO recommended that the White House Office of Management and Budget develop a federal performance plan for food safety. Without such a plan, GAO stated that it’s difficult for Congress and regulators to achieve long-term goals on food safety, and food-safety efforts by the federal government aren’t transparent from the public’s perspective.

On Thursday, GAO reiterated that it still believed such a plan was necessary.

FDA and USDA “have mechanisms in place to facilitate interagency coordination on food safety that focus on specific issues, but none provides for broad-based, centralized collaboration,” GAO wrote.

Formerly, the now-dormant Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) performed the service of a centralized food-safety collaborator, which resulted in more federal food-safety accomplishments, the report stated. Bringing back something like the FSWG would connect FDA, USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a way that fosters collaboration and greater progress on food-safety issues.

“Without a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety, there is no forum for agencies to reach agreement on a set of broad-based food safety goals and objectives,” the GAO report stated.

GAO produced this report under the authority of the Comptroller General in an effort to help Congress understand its food-safety oversight responsibilities.

FSN