While the Obama administration continues to make it clear that it will look to registration, inspection, and import fees to fund food safety efforts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the future, much of the food industry continues to make it known that they are downright opposed to the idea.
The president’s FY 2014 budget released earlier this month seeks a $295 million increase for the agency’s food program, but the vast majority of the boost would come from new fees that Congress has not mandated, including $59 million in registration and inspection fees and $166 million in import fees, to help the agency roll out the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Ahead of a hearing late last week, a coalition of industry groups sent a letter to Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), the chair and ranking member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and other agencies, urging the committee to “appropriately fund” food safety at FDA “rather than support the imposition of any new food regulatory taxes on food makers and consumers.”
“We stand ready to work with Congress and the administration to help FDA prioritize and fund its food safety and inspection activities,” read the letter. “However, imposing new fees on food facilities would represent a food safety tax on consumers.”
The letter was signed by a coalition of more than 50 groups, including the American Bakers Association, the National Fisheries Institute, the American Frozen Food Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Notably, the Grocery Manufacturers Association was not a signatory. GMA did not return a request for comment on the fee issue.
At the National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC last week, Sen. Pryor, the new chair of the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing FDA’s budget, told the audience he believes FDA is a “very, very important agency” that should be adequately funded. “Like a lot of agencies, they’re under fiscal stress. They probably need more staff, not less staff,” he said
But Pryor also emphasized that appropriators and agency heads will have to make the best out of the tough fiscal situation. When asked about whether new fees would be needed, he said “the taxpayer dollars just aren’t there.”
“But if Congress mandated it, you’ve got to find a way to fund it,” he said. “I think fees are a natural place to go.”
At a Senate appropriations hearing, a few days after those remarks, Pryor asked FDA Commissioner Hamburg about the issue.
Pryor pointed out that the appropriations committee can’t mandate new fees and, with widespread opposition, they likely won’t be adopted. “I’m wondering if you’ve thought through the possibility that they not be authorized?” he asked Hamburg.
“Clearly, the goals of food safety modernization and moving toward this preventive model is a shared set of goals,” said Hamburg. “I do think it’s appropriate that our budget reflect that with a combination of budget authority commitment and user fees. We have begun discussion with industry in this arena and those will be important discussions as we try to achieve whats in the president’s budget and as we work with Congress…there will need to be, of course, a legislative pathway going forward.”© Food Safety News