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Obama’s 2017 budget not enough for a food safety legacy

Food safety is spread throughout various departments and programs in the federal budget and the document President Obama proposed Tuesday for fiscal 2017 is no different. The policy wonks who know how the federal budgeteers work go to one place when they want to know how food safety is doing in the budget. It’s the number for the increase or decrease in the base funding for implementing the historic Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA).

Obama wants that number increased by $25.3 million in his proposed 2017 budget. That’s far less than the increase for 2016 when the added money totaled $104.5 million. And it’s not enough for 2017, according to the bipartisan National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).

usbudget_406x250“The $25.3 million increase for FDA’s food safety activities included in the President’s FY17 budget request moves in the right direction, but falls far short of the next investment needed in our new preventive approach to food safety for public health,” said Barbara Glenn, NASDA’s chief executive. “The $104.5 million appropriated by Congress in December was a great down payment on the programs needed to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). States need a similar increased investment for FY17.”

“When NASDA looks at the programs needed to administer Human Food, Animal Food and Produce Safety programs at the state level, states will need about $100 million in FY17 to meet the goals of FSMA,” Glenn added.

“NASDA is also deeply disappointed by the inclusion of user fees in this year’s budget request. User fees have never been supported by NASDA, Congress, or other industry stakeholders. The continued request for user fees by the administration undermines FDA’s efforts to effectively implement FSMA in a timely manner. Without sufficient support of FSMA from the President and Congress, we are setting our producers up for failure.”

How that increase in the base budget plays out over time was recently addressed by Sandra Eskin, food safety director for The Pew Charitable Trusts.  She said the additional money each year has been allowed to accrue to FDA’s base food safety budget except for the amount added for 2013.  That would translate into more than $300 million being added to the base budget during Obama’s time,  but there is clearly going to be debate over whether that’s enough to effectively implement FSMA.

Budgets for both FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are in mammoth Health & Human Services (HHS) Department’s $82.8 billion budget proposal. The HHS budget “includes $1.6 billion, an increase of $212 million above FY (fiscal year) 2016, to support FDA and CDC activities that will develop and strengthen an integrated and prevention based food safety system,” says the White House document.

“The FY 2017 budget includes $1.5 billion for FDA to support implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, including increase state capacity to implement the product safety rules, implementing the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, and ensuring consumers are able to make health food choices,” the proposed 2017 budget says.

The Obama proposal also includes $52 million for “critical unmet needs in the nation’s food supply safety system by focusing on monitoring, surveillance, data analysis, and dissemination of technical guidance, training, and technology to state health departments.”

FDA and CDC are also getting a $24 million increase for their infrastructure needs for a total of $43 million going for “mission critical” improvements and repairs.

In the overall U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) $24.6 billion proposed budget, there’s $8.5 million of new money for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to use to “modernize its science-based decision-making process by developing and deploying new tools to reduce the prevalence of foodborne illnesses.

“FSIS will implement a whole genome sequencing initiative to characterize bacterial genomes with greater precision, and improve the speed and accuracy of outbreak investigations,” the proposed 2017 budget says. “This capability will also play a role in the Administration’s Antimicrobial Resistance initiative by identifying resistance to antimicrobial agents and changes in chemical contaminants to more effectively decrease the contamination rate in food.”

The Obama budget writers also say FSIS will increase its analytical capability. FSIS will have increased mission, policy and rule making roles to set standards, making it more proactive in food defense and its ability to reduce foodborne illness, according to the proposed budget. The budget proposal also covers continued implementation of the New Poultry Inspection System.

Obama wants to double down on the administration’s role in combatting antimicrobial resistance. A $35 million increase is proposed, bringing annual spending to $61 million. The 2017 proposed budget says:

“The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria represents a serious threat to public health and the economy and fighting it is a national security priority.” The funds will be used to “address antimicrobial resistance in pathogens of humans and livestock, and to see answers to key questions about relationships among microbes and livestock, the environment, and human health.”

The 2017 budget is President Obama’s last. The $4.1 trillion spending plan will require borrowing another $503 billion as tax revenues are projected to come in at $3.6 trillion. The start date for FY 2017 is Oct. 1.

Concerns about the proposed budget will now be taken up with the many Congressional committees that have a hand in budget writing. While FDA is now able to charge some user fees, such as for re-inspections, the Obama Administration has been largely unsuccessful in expanding the practice.

The food industry will continue to resist the shift to taxes and fees the administration has sought. The American Frozen Food Institute says FDA’s proposed budget is dependent on $166 million fees for new facility registration and inspections.

“Food safety is the highest priority for America’s frozen food and beverage makers,” says Joseph Clayton, AFFI’s interim president. “Providing sufficient federal resources to adequately fund FDA’s critical food safety activities without increasing costs for consumers and food makers is of paramount importance.”

Clayton says the industry is “disappointed” the Obama budget again proposes greater dependence on user fees.

Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is disappointed because the budget proposal only includes $5 million for “farmer food safety training.”

 

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