How the FDA-USDA Showdown Could Affect the Food Supply

[Editor's Note: This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared on Grist; visit Grist.org to read the rest.]

Small-scale food producers and farmers have been vocal about their concerns that the Senate will pass highly burdensome food-safety legislation.

Equally worried, but much less vocal, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It frets over major gains by its arch-rival, the U.S. food and Drug Administration, over local food producers and small farms. USDA is so worried it has even had its Senate allies include language that "prohibited the FDA from 'impeding, minimizing, or affecting' USDA authority on meat, poultry, and eggs," according to Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety.

The legislation, if it passes as expected (and is signed into law, as President Obama has already vowed to do), will represent a major coup for FDA, and in the process, a loss in influence for USDA. The bill wouldn't so much take power from USDA as give FDA new power, and in the process providing FDA a leg up on its rival.

USDA had for more than a decade pinned its hopes on gaining the upper hand in food safety through the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), but when that bombed earlier this year, FDA had a clear opportunity, which it has expertly exploited through the pending legislation.

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