Despite the importance, understanding the US government agencies related to public health challenges all that attempt it. It turns into alphabet soup rather quickly. Hopefully, we can shed some light on the topic, and clear up any confusion. For efficiency, the federal government partitions itself into multiple departments arranged in a hierarchy.
Two major events in the 1960s initiated the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 with Rachel Carlson’s publication of “Silent Spring.” Following this, the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio furthered this movement. The EPA works to protect human health and the environment. Laws passed by Congress are the basis for regulations enforced by the EPA. The Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 paved the way for improving environmental quality.
The precursor to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) got its start in 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which was updated by the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The original scope of the FDA was to prevent the interstate commerce of adulterated and misbranded food and drugs. It has since expanded to include regulation of foods, drugs, biologics, medical devices, radiation producing products, cosmetics, veterinary products, and tobacco products. The Department of Health and Humans Services (DHHS) oversees the FDA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened its doors in Atlanta, Georgia in 1946. Early work focused on training, field investigations, and control of communicable diseases especially malaria and typhus. Although the name changed many times, the mission remains. The scope of the CDC now includes all diseases (including emerging diseases), injury and environmental health, occupational health, and health statistics. The CDC also falls within the DHHS.
NIOSH and OSHA
Within the CDC lies the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to serve as a research agency. The agency is responsible for making recommendations for workplace safety based on research. These recommendations are then implemented by OSHA.
The Department of Labor houses the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This agency is responsible for assuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees. OSHA was also created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The agency is tasked with enforcing standards mandated by NIOSH. OSHA also provides training and education to employees and employers.
USDA, APHIS, and FSIS
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contains agencies responsible for plant and animal health, food safety, marketing and research services, and rural development. Let’s start with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As the name suggests, APHIS covers all things flora and fauna. The plants fall under Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) while animals are under Veterinary Services (VS) or Wildlife Services (WS). Within VS lies the Surveillance, Preparedness, and Response Service (SPRS) and the National Import Export Service (NIES). SPRS handles disease outbreaks and prevention, and NIES handles animals and animal products entering and leaving the US. These two agencies often work closely together to ensure the health of the nation’s herds.
The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) protects you from foodborne illness from meat, poultry and egg products. FSIS veterinarians perform all federal meat and poultry inspections. They also work closely with the CDC in investigating any outbreaks.