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Archive for Friday, February 6, 2004

A beneficial shift?

February 6, 2004

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Questions are being raised about the plan to shift some food safety responsibilities to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The House Agriculture Committee this week endorsed an order by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius transferring a number of food safety duties from the Department of Health and Environment to the Department of Agriculture.

This plan apparently is part of the governor's effort to seek new efficiencies in state government, but the move may make Kansans wonder whether the governor is trying to fix something that isn't broken.

The order calls for the Agriculture Department to take over inspection of grocery stores, vending machines, convenience stores, bakeries, food wholesalers and some other businesses. Restaurant inspections will remain under Health and Environment.

Some critics question whether the plan provides sufficient checks and balances. Is having the Agriculture Department, which has strong ties to farm producers, also do food inspections at all like having the fox watch over the henhouse?

There also seems to be little reason to separate restaurant inspections from other inspections that would be transferred to the Agriculture Department. Many of the same concerns and principles apply. They are all basically health issues. Why split them up?

Although the House committee endorsed the bill, some members of the Kansas Senate are raising questions. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has appointed a subcommittee to study the plan, which he didn't think provided enough details.

That seems like a sound strategy. Before this order breezes through the Legislature, lawmakers should make sure it represents an improvement over the current way of doing things.

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