"A modernized system would have as a goal prevention, early detection if it can't be prevented, and mitigation of any adverse impacts if something occurs," Reuters quoted Vilsack during a conference call with reporters.

The announcement comes just after an outbreak of salmonella in the U.S. has been linked to peanut butter, which has caused a massive recall of products containing peanut butter from grocery store shelves nationwide. The outbreak has resulted in seven reported deaths and sickening people in 43 states, as of January 23.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over 80% of the nation’s food supply, but the USDA is in charge of the regulation of poultry, beef, eggs and other meats.


Some critics say one system to regulate all foods would provide better protection. "I think before there can be any conversation about merging of entities or a single agency or anything of that sort, you've got to get the foundation right," Vilsack told reporters.

Vilsack also addressed other issues on Monday, including the environmental challenges faced by farmers; research and development of biofuels; fighting childhood obesity; and restoring the mission of the Forest Service as a protector of clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat.

“We need to do a better job of responding to challenges, apologizing for mistakes when we make them, empowering our employees to make decisions and drive change, and emphasizing a transparent and inclusive style of governing," said Vilsack.