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Food safetyImplementing new food safety measure hampered by lack of funding

Published 9 April 2015

Roughly forty-eight million Americans have food-borne illness each year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 of them are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The cost of treatment and lost income is $15 billion a year or more, according to data from the Agriculture Department.When Congress passed the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new powers to prevent food outbreaks, however, it failed adequately to fund the agency, thereby diminishing its ability to implement new regulations and inspection powers on food producers and foreign suppliers.

When Congress passed the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new powers to prevent food outbreaks, it failed adequately to fund the agency, thereby diminishing its ability to implement new regulations and inspection powers on food producers and foreign suppliers. Roughly forty-eight million Americans have food-borne illness each year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 of them are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. The cost of treatment and lost income is $15 billion a year or more, according to data from the Agriculture Department.

The Congressional Budget Office projected that the FDA would need $580 million from 2011 to 2015 to implement the measures required by FSMA. Congress has appropriated less than half of the needed amount, even as the agency is set to pass new food safety rules this year. “I don’t think it’s too much to say that the success” of the overhaul “is on the line,” Michael R. Taylor, the deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in an interview with theNew York Times. “We have good plans for moving forward. The problem is we don’t have the money.”

FSMA requires food companies to ensure the safety of their foods, instead of relying largely on FDA inspectors. The act calls for better record-keeping, outbreak response plans, and measures to prevent the spread of contaminants. It also gives the FDA an unprecedented authority to issue recalls.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), who serves on the subcommittee responsible for funding the FDA, and helped write FSMA, blames the setback partly on the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because they had tried to impose user fees on the food industry to help fund the law. In last year’s budget request, the FDA asked for $263 million to carry out FSMA, with about $229 million coming from fees on food companies. Lawmakers rejected the proposal after lobbying by the food industry. It should be noted that the FDA relies on user fees for other agency programs.

In a 2014 letter to the Obama administration from DeLauro and Representative Sam Farr (D-California), the two asked the Office of Management and Budget and HHS to request funding for FSMA through a federal appropriation request. “User fees are a nonstarter,” she said in a recent interview. “They are just not going to get through Congress.”

Funding FSMA, supporters say, will help reduce costs from future outbreaks. “If we keep shortchanging the FDA, it will continue to cost us billions of dollars a year to deal with food-borne illness,” said DeLauro.

In the current fiscal year, the FDA received an appropriation of $27.5 million for FSMA, and has since asked Congress to allocate $109.5 million for fiscal year 2016. How the Republican-led Congress will respond is uncertain, considering the current mood for spending cuts. At a March hearing on the FDA’s budget, Representative Harold Rogers (R-Kentucky), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was concerned about the agency’s overall budget request and that the request for more than $100 million for FSMA “will be tough to swallow.”