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Obama Boosts FDA Food Safety in FY2011 Budget

What Obama’s budget means for food safety: FDA gets big bump but relies on fees in pending food safety legislation; FSIS budget leaves experts concerned

President Obama’s 2011 budget proposes increased spending on food safety activities, especially for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has historically received a disproportionately small cut of federal food safety spending compared to its U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) counterpart.

Though the President’s budget requests a boost in funding to both FDA and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for food regulation, FDA’s increase far exceeds the rate of inflation, while the FSIS budget remains essentially flat.

FDA’s food safety programs receive a 30 percent increase in funding for 2011 under the proposal (pdf).  According to the agency, the budget invests approximately $1.37 billion to strengthen food safety efforts, up $318.3 million from 2010.

FSIS, on the other hand, receives a less than 2 percent increase of $18 million in the budget (pdf)–$1.046 billion for 2011, compared to $1.028 billion in 2010.

FDA

About 75 percent of FDA’s hefty increase in resources for food regulation will depend on the passage of an FDA food safety reform bill, which includes food facility registration fees.

The agency does not currently have the authority to collect the fees needed to fund its proposed budget increase.

“Without the enactment of the registration fee for FDA, the $146 million in increased appropriations proposed for the food safety budget will leave the agency in a little better shape than it is today,” said Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Food & Water Watch.

In addition to relying on registration fees, much of the budget won’t go directly to food safety activities, according to David Acheson, former associate commissioner of foods at FDA.

“It is not even as good as $1.37 billion for the foods programs. Of that $1.37 billion, just a little over $1 billion is actually going to the food programs in the Centers, the Field and in the Office of Commissioner; the rest is used for rent,” said Acheson in a blog post, after the budget was released.

According to FDA, the increase will allow the agency to implement core elements of the President’s Food Safety Working Group, and “set standards for food safety, expand laboratory capacity, pilot track and trace technology, strengthen its import safety program, improve data collection and risk analysis and begin to establish an integrated food safety system with strengthened inspection and response capacity.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chairwoman of the Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, reacted to Obama’s budget proposal with praise for the FDA portion and concern for the FSIS proposal.

“I commend President Obama for his understanding of the important work being done at the Food and Drug Administration,” said DeLauro in a statement Monday. “Supporting the FDA in their role of maintaining the safety of our food and medicine is essential.”

FSIS

“The proposed focus on transforming food safety, protecting patients, and advancing regulatory science reflects the president’s commitment to a strong food safety system, and I am very pleased with his continued support,” said DeLauro. “However, while there are new food safety initiatives that deserve consideration, I am concerned that funding for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service remains essentially frozen.”

“The FSIS is responsible for front-line inspections and recalls, and will be stretched beyond its capacity by the growing population of our country and the resulting increase in food consumption,” said DeLauro. “Recent food-borne illness outbreaks, such as a recent recall involving salami that has sickened 202 people in 42 states, clearly demonstrate that the FSIS is confronting ever more serious and widespread food safety concerns.”

“FSIS should be given the resources to perform the critical food safety activities that comprise USDA’s public health mission area,” added DeLauro.

According to Corbo, the FSIS proposal might not even cover the additional workload for inspectors. Though the agency’s budget increase is less than 2 percent, the budget predicts a 7.8 percent increase in the number of slaughter facilities and a 2.2 percent increase in meat and poultry processing facilities.

“Because these new facilities will require continuous government inspection, this proposed budget puts an already stretched FSIS workforce under increased pressure,” said Corbo. “Even more troubling is that the proposed budget would cut funding for FSIS’ import inspection program by 15.8 percent.”

“It is encouraging that the proposed budget would substantially increase the number of microbiological and antibiotic residue samples collected and analyzed in FY 2011, but we hope that the agency will have enough inspection personnel to collect those samples, as well as scientists to conduct the tests,” added Corbo.

The White House budget proposal is just the beginning of a long and arduous budget process through both the House and Senate, which will likely not conclude until FY2011 has already begun.

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