Energy Star Approval Gets Tougher

  • This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.(Photo courtesy of Energy Star)

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

Transcript

The agencies in charge of the Energy Star Program are making it less vulnerable to fraud. Lester Graham reports, a covert investigation revealed corporate self-reporting could be faked.

The Energy Star Program certifies whether appliances and other products lower energy costs. But, it was based on the honor system. If the company said its product qualified, it got the Energy Star label.

The Government Accountability Office submitted fake products to the Energy Star program. Jonathan Meyer was one of the investigators.

Meyer: We initiated our work by submitting fairly common products and those made it through the certification process without any real scrutiny, so we increased the level of, you know, ODD products toward the end of our investigation to see if there’s any type of information that would raise red flags.

Even a phony gas-powered alarm clock was certified as Energy Star compliant.

This week the EPA and the Department of Energy started requiring complete lab reports to review before approving products for Energy Star labels.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Who Should Regulate What?

  • In 2005, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were 35% higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution. (Data courtesy of the US EPA. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The EPA recently announced that
it’s moving forward with regulations
to limit global warming pollutants
like carbon dioxide. Now, some
Senate Republicans want to stop
the EPA. Samara Freemark has that story:

Transcript

The EPA recently announced that
it’s moving forward with regulations
to limit global warming pollutants
like carbon dioxide. Now, some
Senate Republicans want to stop
the EPA. Samara Freemark has that story:

Senate Republicans say, if the country wants to regulate greenhouse gases, Congress should do it – not the EPA.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski represents Alaska. She’s drafted an amendment to put a hold on EPA greenhouse gas regulations for one year.

Critics say the amendment would strip the EPA of an important regulatory tool.

Anne Johnson is a spokesperson for Senator Murkowski. She says regulatory action from the EPA would be too broad and could hurt American businesses.

“Senator Murkowski represents Alaska. It’s ground zero for climate change. There’s no denying that. She knows that we need to do something, and she’s committed to that. At the same time, she’s committed to not harming the economy.”

Murkowski could introduce the amendment as early as this week.

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

The CIA Is Watching Climate Change

  • Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. The top photo was taken in 1940, the bottom in 2006. (Photo courtesy of the USGS)

The Central Intelligence Agency will
keep an eye on climate change. Lester
Graham reports the spy agency plans to
open a climate change office this month:

Transcript

The Central Intelligence Agency will
keep an eye on climate change. Lester
Graham reports the spy agency plans to
open a climate change office this month:

The CIA is still choosing staff for the climate change office.

A spokesperson for the agency, Marie Harf, declined to be recorded. In an email she stated, “Examining the impact that the effects of climate change can have on political and social stability overseas is certainly part of the Agency’s mandate.”

There’s concern that climate change will cause expanding deserts and rising sea levels. That could lead to huge population migrations in search of water and food, threatening world stability.


In a statement, U.S. Senator John Barrasso calls a CIA climate change office “misguided.” Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, asks whether CIA staff will be taken off monitoring terrorists to watching polar ice caps. The Senator says other agencies can monitor climate change and share data with the CIA.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Interview: A Former CIA Director Talks Oil

  • James Woolsey was the Director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995 (Photo courtesy of James Woolsey)

The current recession has caused the price of oil to drop – most think temporarily. James Woolsey was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency – the CIA – during the Clinton Administration. The Environment Report’s Lester Graham recently talked with him. Woolsey has been arguing that, no matter what the price, dependence on oil is a national security problem that we need to solve:

Transcript

The current recession has caused the price of oil to drop – most think temporarily. James Woolsey was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, during the Clinton Administration. The Environment Report’s Lester Graham recently talked with him. Woolsey has been arguing that no matter what the price, dependence on oil is a national security problem that we need to solve:

James Woolsey: Well, I think moving away from oil dependence, period, is extremely important for our security, and it’s important because of climate change. We are funding both sides of the War on Terror. Oil, when it comes into a hierocracy or into a dictatorship, tends to enhance the power of the state. Tom Friedman summed that up very well in his chapter of his new book ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded,’ the chapter is called ‘Fill’er Up With Dictators,’ and it’s a pretty accurate statement. We’ve also run the risk of oil cutoffs, of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, oil is just a very big national security problem for us, and it has a 97% monopoly on transportation. So, we’ve got to break that monopoly.

Lester Graham: It seems the only time you can get the general public’s attention on this issue is during periods of gas price spikes. What do you think it will take to get a sustained effort at the personal level to become more energy independent?

Woolsey: Most major automobile companies are coming out with plug-in hybrids here before long. Plug-in hybrids let you drive all electric for 30 or 40 or 50 miles before you then become just a regular hybrid using some liquid fuel. Three-quarters of the days, the average American car goes less than 40 miles. You’re driving on the functional equivalent of 50 to 75 cents a gallon when you’re driving on electricity. And that, I think, is going to get people’s attention and provide a real economic incentive to move toward plug-in hybrids – if the up-front cost of the battery is taken care of, by a tax credit, or by leasing the battery instead of buying it, or by some other financial arrangement. So people can then see they can drive on a lot less than the cost of driving on gasoline, whether it’s driving on $3 a gallon or $4 a gallon.


Graham: Now, you’ve stated your concern on climate change, global warming on several occasions, you consider yourself fairly conservative politically, I’m wondering what you make of the controversy and the debate that you recently heard in the House and what we’re likely to hear in the Senate.

Woolsey: Well, I’m kind of liberal on domestic things, and kind of conservative on defense and foreign policy things – which, to me, is a perfectly reasonable balance, but some people don’t see it that way. I think part, and possibly a very important part, of warming and climate change is likely to be being produced, most climatologists would say, by the fact that we’re pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and trapping heat, that creates a problem. We still need to get the job done of stopping, as much as we can, something that could make the world a very, very unpleasant place – in terms of the height of sea levels and other things – for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Graham: I read an article in The Futurist Magazine from the World Future Society which explained you’re doing a lot in your personal life to become more energy independent – what’s worked for you?

Woolsey: Well, we have photovoltaic cells on the roof of our farmhouse, and lead-acid gel batteries in the basement, and a plug-in hybrid. It’s a little expensive, but you can do a lot these days to make it possible to operate your home, at least the key functions of it, even if the electric grid goes down because of an accident or some kind of hacking attack or something. And you can be, at least, partially independent. It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, it’s going to get better, it’s going to get cheaper, but you can get started now, if you want to.

Graham: James Woolsey is a former CIA Director, and is now a partner at Vantage Point, a venture capital firm. Thanks for your time.

Woolsey: Thank you.

Related Links

FDA and Food Safety: Failing Grade

  • Another scare came a few years ago, when spinach was found to be tainted with E. Coli (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

In the wake of this year’s tainted peanut butter scare, Congress is getting ready to approve changes to the Food and Drug Administration. Lawmakers want to give the American public more confidence in the safety of the food supply system. But some people doubt they will be able to
make real change. Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

In the wake of this year’s tainted peanut butter scare,
Congress is getting ready to approve changes to the Food
and Drug Administration. Lawmakers want to give the
American public more confidence in the safety of the food
supply system. But some people doubt they will be able to
make real change. Julie Grant reports:

Gwen Rosenberg is a mom. She has four boys to feed. So
she’d like to be able to trust that the food supply is safe.

But when Rosenberg heard that 8 people died after eating
peanut products earlier this year, and hundreds more got
sick, it confirmed her beliefs: that the Food and Drug
Administration isn’t making sure food is safe.

“There shouldn’t be stories that come out that reveal that the
peanut plant hasn’t been inspected for years. Or when it
was inspected, there was rat feces. They’re not doing their
job.”

Rosenberg wants the FDA to crack down on food
manufacturers. She says they need inspect more – and shut
down facilities when they find dangerous conditions. She
was appalled when she realized the FDA has no authority to
recall tainted foods.

“The fact that they don’t have recall authority essentially
neuters the FDA. I mean, how are we supposed to take
anything they say or do seriously if they end result is, ‘well,
we can’t force you to do this?’ Well, thanks for the
community service message not to eat the tainted peanut
butter, but you’re not actually making me any safer.”

In the case of the Peanut Corporation of America, a test
found salmonella in its products. It retested. When the test
came out negative, it went ahead and shipped out the
products.

And the FDA had no recall authority. Congressman Bart
Stupak says that’s just wrong. He’s co-sponsoring a food
safety bill that would give the FDA some authority in cases
like this.

“What the FDA can do, shut ‘er down. Prove to me that you
cleaned it up. Prove to me, where did you destroy this
product. Give me the facts. They can’t give you the facts,
shut ‘er down right now. Let’s not wait ten days.”

But leaders in the FDA don’t think recall authority would
have made much difference in the tainted peanut product
case.

David Acheson is Associate Commissioner for foods at the
FDA. Once people started getting sick, he says most
companies using the Peanut Corporation of America’s
products voluntarily recalled their cookies and crackers.

“There’s no suggestion that having mandatory recall is a
panacea to solving food safety problems. It’s one more tool
that would be used from time to time when the situation
warrants it, but it’s not the answer to modernizing food
safety.”

Acheson says the real problem is that the FDA is so busy
reacting to public health threats – to putting out fires – that it
can’t get ahead of the problems and fix the food safety
system.

He says the food system needs preventive controls.

There are a lot of points in the food supply chain where
hazards can creep in: when the food is being grown,
processed, distributed, or sold in a store. Acheson says the
food industry needs to identify control points for each food –
where they are most at risk at becoming unsafe.

“Is it a wild animal in a field, is it the water supply for the
spinach, is it the temperature in my freezer in a retail store.
And all these things in between where things can go wrong
and food can either become contaminated or if there is a low
level of contamination then bacteria can grow.”

Once those control points are identified, Acheson says the
FDA needs to do more inspections – to make sure food is
being handlled safely from farms fields to grocery stores.

But that’s going to cost money.

So Congress is considering charging companies fees to pay
for those inspections.

Food manufacturers don’t like that idea. We contacted
several companies, but none of them, not even the Grocery
Manufacturers Association, would comment for this story.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Interview: Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar

  • Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (Photo by Andy Pernick, courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation)

The Department of Interior includes
agencies such as the US Fish and
Wildlife Service, the National Park
Service, the Bureau of Land Management
and many other bureaus, services and
offices. Former Senator Ken Salazar
directs it all. Lester Graham recently
talked with the Secretary of Interior
about the Department and the problems
and challenges he faces:

Transcript

The Department of Interior includes
agencies such as the US Fish and
Wildlife Service, the National Park
Service, the Bureau of Land Management
and many other bureaus, services and
offices. Former Senator Ken Salazar
directs it all. Lester Graham recently
talked with the Secretary of Interior
about the Department and the problems
and challenges he faces:

Lester Graham: Interior is a huge department, with many services and bureaus. Some of those departments deal with oil and gas exploration on public lands and places such as Alaska, Utah, and offshore. During the Bush Administration, the Department of the Interior was criticized for being too cozy with the oil and gas industry. And it culminated with a scandal involving oil company execs, government workers, and wild parties – complete with cocaine and sex. Secretary Salazar stressed to me, those days of partying and sweetheart deals with oil and gas companies are over.

Ken Salazar: It is unfortunate that the department was blemished in the Bush era because of the transgressions which occurred here and the paradigm which unfolded – which we are seeing the results of today – is that there was a bending of the rules and a flaunting of the law. There is a lot of cleaning up that has to be done.

Graham: Recently you came to a memorandum, I’m understanding, with FERC about offshore wind turbines. How soon might we see wind turbines off the coasts of the US?

Salazar: I expect that it will happen during the first term of the Obama Administration. I think that there is a huge potential for wind energy, especially off the shores of the Atlantic, because of the shallowness of those waters.

Graham: Will we ever see a point where we have windmills near coast, and drilling rigs out farther, along the Atlantic Coast?

Salazar: I do believe that we will see the wind potential develop. I think it will be similar to what we already see in the United Kingdom and Denmark and Norway. In respect to oil and gas off the Atlantic, I think that is still a question that needs to be looked at. And it’s part of what we’re doing in looking at a new 5-year plan for the Outer Continental Shelf. And we are not making a decision at this point, or pre-judging where we will end up after we complete the comment process which ends in September.

Graham: Secretary Salazar says domestic oil and gas will play a role in American energy. He talked about the Department of Interior’s role in the nation’s energy independence, and noted the departments 15,000 scientists will be helping deal with the big issues such as global warming and climate change. Ken Salazar says that since the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other nature-related agencies make up Interior, one of its top priorities is a program called ‘Treasured Landscapes.’

Salazar: I am hopeful that we will be able to, in this Administration, create the kind of legacy that was created by Teddy Roosevelt. President Obama has a vision for the landscapes of America, which is one that I believe we can deliver on. Restoration of major landscapes, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes and the Everglades and so many others, will be a part of that agenda.

Graham: Secretary Salazar, thank you so much for your time.

Salazar: Thank you very much, Lester.

Graham: Ken Salazar, President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior. For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Saving Energy: Simple Changes, Big Impact

  • Jack Brown is an Outreach Technician for Community Resource Project, helping to spread the word about weatherization services that families may be eligible for. In his 23 years at Community Resource, Brown says he’s assessed about 5,000 homes. (Photo by Amy Standen)

Solar panels and wind turbines get most of the buzz, but it’s far easier and cheaper to save energy than it is to make more of it. Now, President Obama’s economic stimulus package
is pouring billions into energy-efficiency programs. As Amy Standen reports, it’s shining a new spotlight on some of the simpler ways we can all reduce our energy use:

Transcript

Solar panels and wind turbines get most of the buzz, but it’s far easier and cheaper to save
energy than it is to make more of it. Now, President Obama’s economic stimulus package
is pouring billions into energy-efficiency programs. As Amy Standen reports, it’s shining
a new spotlight on some of the simpler ways we can all reduce our energy use:

Sure, I’ve thought about buying solar panels to put on my roof. There’s a perfect spot on
the south-facing slope – maybe we could power the whole house. But there are some
easier things we could do first – like insulate the attic or weather strip the doors. And yet,
somehow I never quite get around to them.

Why is that? Well James Sweeney directs the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at
Stanford, and he has a theory.

“Energy efficiency turns out to have low salience to people.”

Which is to say, it’s maybe… a little bit boring?

“It’s very boring.”

But if your eyes start to glaze over at the mere mention of the word “efficiency,” consider
the compact fluorescent light bulb.

“The easiest thing everyone can do is change their lighting.”

If everyone in the U.S. traded in their old incandescent light bulbs for compact
fluorescents, we’d cut electricity use by about 2%.

Which, maybe, doesn’t sound so impressive – until you consider the fact that all the solar
and all the wind power combined in the entire country amounts to point .4% of our total
energy use. That’s 0.4.

“The cleanest energy is the energy you don’t need in the first place.”

That fact has not been lost on the Obama White House. The American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act is pouring approximately 20 billion dollars into efficiency projects.

Five billion of that will fund what’s called the Weatherization Assistance Program, which
helps low-income families weatherproof their homes. To qualify, a family of four must
make less than $44 thousand dollars a year.

(sound of someone giving directions – “Take 25 and go to El Paso Road”)

That stimulus cash funds local non-profits like Community Resource Project, in
Sacramento, California. Since January, Community Resource’s budget has tripled, from
1.3 to 4.5 million dollars a year. They’re buying new trucks, hiring at all levels, and
going to more and more homes.

(sound of knocking at a door)

Like this one – a five-bedroom stucco ranch house in a newer suburban development
outside of Sacramento.

(sound of door opening)

“Hello, how are you doing?”

At the door is TinaMarie Dunn, a family friend who’s showing us around today. She
gives a squeeze to two-year old Anaya, one of ten children who live here.

“Look Anaya, say cheese!” (Anaya: Cheese!)

Dunn says utility bills here can hit $500 dollars a month. She says the house just doesn’t
work right.

“When the heat is on, downstairs is hot, downstairs is cold. When the air’s on, the
upstairs is cold, the downstairs is hot.”

Community Resource’s Dana Gonzalez walks into the kitchen, and pauses to take a look
around.

Standen: “So when you walked in, what was the first thing you saw?”

Gonzalez: “It’s funny. You see this door shoe and you see, actually the bottom rubber
is gone.”

He points to a two-inch gap under the front door.

“And if you put your hand here, you can actually feel the air. Anytime they kick on
their heat and cool, that’s definitely affecting their house, and in the long run, affects
their bill.”

Community Resource will spend about $1500 here, aiming to cut monthly utility bills by
as much as 20%.

They’ll weather strip the doors, patch up holes in the walls, install CFL bulbs. We’re not
talking solar panels or radiant heating – just small, mostly inexpensive adjustments that
cumulatively, have a huge impact.

The White House says these efficiency projects will create thousands of jobs, but there’s
also concern that the huge cash infusion is a recipe for fraud and mismanagement.

Department of Energy officials have called for extra vigilance in the disbursement of
weatherization cash. But, they say, the benefits, both environmental and economic, far
outweigh the risks.

For The Environment Report, I’m Amy Standen.

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Interview: EPA’s Lisa Jackson

  • Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (Photo courtesy of the US EPA)

Some members of Congress feel they’re being coerced into approving a Climate Change bill that would force industry to reduce greenhouse gases. Republicans and some Democrats feel the Obama Administration is telling Congress to either approve legislation or the Environmental Protection Agency will use its authority to restrict greenhouse gases. Lester Graham spoke with the Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, about that perception:

Transcript

Some members of Congress feel they’re being coerced into approving a Climate Change bill that would force industry to reduce greenhouse gases. Republicans and some Democrats feel the Obama administration is telling Congress to either approve legislation or the Environmental Protection Agency will use its authority to restrict greenhouse gases. Lester Graham spoke with the Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson about that perception.

Administrator Lisa Jackson: They want to say that it’s EPA’s action that’s compelling them to be forced to address energy and climate change legislation. I certainly hope that’s not the case. We are actually in a race here to move to a greener energy economy. And the rest of the world is certainly doing it. And I always tell people that if you don’t want to do it for the environmental reasons, you need to look at the economics and where the world is going, and realize we need to break our dependence on fossil fuels that come from out of our country. We need to move to clean energy. That should be the imperative. I hope it becomes the imperative.

Lester Graham: There’s a new treaty coming up to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the UN Climate Change Conference will meet in Copenhagen in December for a new climate change agreement – if Congress does not pass climate change legislation by that point, how will it affect the standing of the United States in those talks?

Administrator Jackson: Well, certainly it’s fair to say the eyes of the world are upon us, to some degree. Each country is dealing individually with their own situation on energy and climate, and then obviously those are big multi-lateral talks. But I do think people are watching to see if the United States is in this game of clean energy and addressing carbon.

Graham: If Congress does not pass a measure this year before that conference, but there’s a likelihood of it passing next year, will that change – I’m just trying to figure out how we enter into those negotiations if we don’t have a solid plan for reducing greenhouse gasses.

Administrator Jackson: I know lots of people are trying to figure out whether or not the United States will be at the table and in a big way. It certainly is the most important thing to be able to say to the rest of the world, is that not only President Obama is clearly behind this, but the Congress representing the people of the United States has moved to embrace new energy policy, and clean energy, and low-carbon. We’re not there yet, obviously. I’m still optimistic, despite all the other discussions going on, because I know that there’s been real progress made to date.

Graham: You’re just a few months into the job, and already seeing a little heat from Congress and big, big challenge – how do you feel about the job and what do you hope to accomplish in the first year?

Administrator Jackson: I already know that it’s the best job I’ll ever have. I understand that the push and pull of the system is that we’re going to have some dialogue on issues that are of great concern to members of Congress, to the American people, to various stakeholders, and I’m eager to have those conversations. And I think as long as we keep in mind that we’re going to follow the best science we can, we’re going to follow the law, we’re going to be honest, we’re going to be transparent, we’re not going to hold information back. You know, I think that was the most damning criticism of EPA – that there was information out there that might have protected the environment or the American people that was held back. And that time and trust, we have to now re-earn. So that’s what we’re about.

Graham: Administrator Jackson, thanks for your time.

Administrator Jackson: Thank you so much, Lester. Nice talking to you.

Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She spoke with The Environment Report’s Lester Graham.

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Senator Exposes Smoking Gun?

  • Senator John A. Barrasso from Wyoming (Photo courtesy of the United States Congress)

Conservative bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and even Republican leaders are making a big deal about a White House memo. Lester Graham reports the White House seems surprised by the furor:

Transcript

Conservative bloggers, radio talk show hosts, and even Republican leaders are making a big deal about a White House memo. Lester Graham reports the White House seems surprised by the furor:

During a hearing Republican Senator John Barrasso waved around a memo he said was proof the Obama administration was moving ahead with the regulation of global warming gases without having the science to back it up.

“It’s here, nine pages. This is a smoking gun, saying that your findings are political not scientifica (sic) — not scientific.”

The memo was part of a larger document from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

It’s routine to get opinions about potential regulations from different agencies.

We called the Office of Management and Budget repeatedly, asking which agency wrote the unsigned memo. No one would go on tape, but instead referred us to their blog – which basically said: this opinion is not a big deal; the EPA is operating under the law, and the science backs up any potential regulation of greenhouse gases.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Interview: Making Our Food Safer

  • The Government Accountability Office identified food safety as one of the major issues for the new administration to address (Photo by Ken Hammond, courtesy of the USDA)

As President Obama starts looking at

priorities, he or his staff will

have to take a look at the “Urgent

Issues” identified by the Government

Accountability Office. There’s a list

of 13 Urgent Issues, ranging from the

wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the

oversight of financial institutions and

markets. Food safety is also on that list.

The Environment Report’s Lester Graham

spoke with Lisa Shames. She’s with the

GAO. She says food safety issues such

as the current recall of peanut butter

contaminated by salmonella are becoming

a real concern:

Transcript

As President Obama starts looking at

priorities, he or his staff will

have to take a look at the “Urgent

Issues” identified by the Government

Accountability Office. There’s a list

of 13 Urgent Issues, ranging from the

wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the

oversight of financial institutions and

markets. Food safety is also on that list.

The Environment Report’s Lester Graham

spoke with Lisa Shames. She’s with the

GAO. She says food safety issues such

as the current recall of peanut butter

contaminated by salmonella are becoming

a real concern:

Lisa Shames: I think we’re all becoming more aware of how globalized our food
supply is. More and more is being imported. And, we’re also keenly aware of
the publicity that the recent outbreaks have had. Two and a half years ago, it
started with spinach, and, most recently with peanut butter. And, in between,
we’ve become aware of ingredients that may have become part of the food
supply, such as the melamine in pet food, and, most recently, in milk products.
And, we’re also facing the risk that federal dollars are not being spent as
efficiently and effectively as possible.
Lester Graham: Well, I guess I understand that, but I’m more concerned about
whether I can buy food at the supermarket or at other places and be sure that it’s
safe.

Shames: Well, let me say at the outset that, overall, our food supply is generally
safe. But there are challenges, because the demographics are such that we’re
going to be more susceptible to food-borne outbreaks. The population is getting
older, pregnant women are more vulnerable to these food-borne outbreaks, as
well as those who have immune deficiencies.

Graham: Now, a GAO report that I read indicated there are a lot of government
agencies duplicating efforts, and, in some cases, there are gaps in food
inspection. How did we end up with such a hodge-podge of efforts on something
as important as food safety?

Shames: The food safety structure has evolved piece-meal. And, what has
happened is that the Department of Agriculture is responsible for meat, and
poultry, and processed eggs, and the Food and Drug Administration is
responsible for seafood and fresh produce. Even that now has become a little
more fragmented, in that the oversight of catfish is now the responsibility of the
Agriculture Department. So, it’s a system that has many players involved, and
there really is no formal mechanism for them to work in a more coordinated and
efficient manner.

Graham: We also get some conflicting messages from agencies. Recently, the
Food and Drug Administration proposed that women who are pregnant or could
become pregnant eat more fish, while the Environmental Protection Agency
advises that those same women eat less fish because of contaminates such as
mercury. Why is there so much confusion?

Shames: Well, part of it is that there’s no convening mechanism for these
agencies to talk with each other. For example, a number of years ago, there was
a food safety council that was in place. We’ve also found that a government-
wide plan could also ensure that the goals of these agencies are complementary,
as well as the data that they collect, and the information they disseminate is
consistent and minimizes any confusion on the public’s part.

Graham: Are we talking about a sort of food czar?

Shames: Well, that is a possibility. We feel that agencies at least have to sit
around the table. And that really is one of our key recommendations to the
Congress and to the new administration. We’ve also asked for re-examination of
the food laws to make sure that they are consistent and uniform, as well as risk-
based. And that way we can target the scarce federal dollars where they’re
needed the most.

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