House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sharply criticized Republicans for not supporting food safety funding at a voters forum in Florida on Monday. The former House Speaker called Republicans “the E. coli club” for their tendency toward limited government.
The comments come as Congress slowly advances an appropriations bill that, many consumer and regulatory advocates believe, does not adequately fund the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has jurisdiction over 80 percent of the food supply and is charged now with implementing a more preventative food safety system, outlined by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that FSMA would cost around $1.4 billion over five years to implement the sweeping new law as Congress intended, but last year FDA got a modest $50 increase and next year’s funding is still up in the air. The House version would cut FDA’s budget, though food safety funding would remain relatively flat.
“Bless their hearts they act upon their beliefs. It’s an ideology: We shouldn’t have a government role,” said Pelosi at a voters forum for congressional candidate Lois Frankel, the former mayor of West Palm Beach. “So reduce the police, the fire, the teachers, reduce the role. Give tax cuts to the high end, that will stimulate the economy and everything will be good.”
“I say to them: Do you have children who breathe the air? Do you have grandchildren who drink water? I’m a mom, I have five kids,” continued Pelosi, who now has several grandkids. “As a mom, I was vigilant about food safety, right moms? If you could depend on the government for one thing, it was that you had to trust the water that they drank and the food they ate.”
“But this is the E. coli club. They do not want to spend money to do that,” said Pelosi.
Because of the fierce debate over the role of government and growing deficits, the budget process is extremely contentious right now, with FDA among many agency caught up in the controversy.
In a recent update on the appropriations process, the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, a coalition of industry, consumer, and public health groups, the group noted that while FDA is better funded than it used to be (they call the agency chronically starved for resources to meet its growing responsibilities), “the agency is still underfunded.”
Adding to the challenge of boosting FDA funding is the threat of sequestration — deep, automatic cuts to discretionary spending that may happen in 2013 since a “supercommittee” failed to come up with a spending reduction plan after the debt ceiling deal last that was struck last sumer.
A sequestration could be devastating for FDA’s budget. As the Alliance’s executive director Stephen Grossman recently explained, “It is clear that sequestration would mean FDA cannot do nearly as much in FY 13 as it did in FY 12, probably a lot less.”
“Most functions of the agency will have less money to work with — suggesting food will be less safe, drugs and devices will get slower reviews, and fewer people will be available to beef up the urgent gap in import safety,” added Grossman.
In a later update, Grossman says the Alliance hopes such cuts will be avoided because they would “threaten the public health and will ultimately cost more than the savings.”© Food Safety News