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article imageOp-Ed: Ongoing budget cuts are putting food safety at risk

By Karen Graham     Jun 19, 2015 in Food
In 2010, Congress passed a sweeping food safety law that gave the FDA broader powers in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks. But with all the new powers allowed, Congress failed to give enough funding to the agency to carryout the new laws.
The Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by president Obama in 2011 was the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in 70 years, coming after several large foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S.
The new law gives the FDA broader powers in preventing future outbreaks, authority to mandate recalls, as well as using preventive controls in animal feed. It is supposed to allow for greater surveillance of foreign importers and tighter import rules.
The Congressional Budget Office said the FDA would need a total of $580 million from 2011 to 2015 if it were to carry out the changes required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. Would it come as a surprise to anyone that the FDA has received less than half that amount?
Michael R. Taylor, the deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said last month, “I don’t think it’s too much to say that the success of the overhaul is on the line. We have good plans for moving forward. The problem is we don’t have the money.”
FDA user fees are a "non-starter"
The shortfall in funding to the FDA could be blamed on "user fees." In five previous budget requests, the FDA proposed user fees be imposed on the food industry that would fund the food safety law. This same thing is used by the FDA on other programs the agency runs.
As an example, last year the FDA asked for $263 million for the law, with about $229 million coming from fees on food companies, according to figures in the NY Times. But Congress rejected the request after extensive lobbying by the food industry.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who helped write the law, wrote a letter to President Obama last year, telling the President the "user fees are a non-starter," and requesting that the necessary funding be part of the budget appropriation. So what did the FDA get out of all this? They received $27.5 million for the current fiscal year.
“If we keep shortchanging the F.D.A., it will continue to cost us billions of dollars a year to deal with food-borne illness,” said Ms. DeLauro, a member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the agency’s funding.
Food safety is at risk because of the lack of sufficient funding
We are already seeing the effects of some of the new regulations. Due to a lack of personnel, on-site inspectors in many meat processing facilities are absent, with the burden of proof being put on companies allowed to self-inspect their procedures. This change in the rules requires more record keeping on the producer's part but also leaves open a greater chance of records being altered.
We have already been made aware of the small number of products coming into our country actually inspected, as seen by the paltry 3.7 percent of shrimp imports the FDA checked in 2014, and the less than 0.7 percent of shrimp actually tested. Yet 16 percent of shrimp tested by another organization tested positive for pathogens.
It is really imperative that the FDA gets the $109.5 million. The implementation of the new FSMA won't happen without the funding, and the U.S. consumer is going to suffer the consequences. We really don't want to see another foodborne illness take over the nation like the 2009 Salmonella outbreak affecting peanut butter.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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