The U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs substantially more resources to effectively monitor the food supply, a former food safety official said Wednesday.

“I firmly believe that FDA probably needs about $5 billion to do its job well, not $1 [billion],” said David Acheson, former FDA Associate Commissioner of Foods, told an audience of food safety experts at the American Conference Institute’s 4th National Forum on Foodborne Illness Litigation in Chicago.

“But where’s that money going to come from?” lamented Acheson, well aware of the budgetary realities in the current political landscape. Although FDA won’t be getting a substantial increase in funding any time soon, Acheson believes the pending food safety bill will be a boon to public health.

“I think this legislation is needed simply because it sets a bar and that way everybody can work around that bar and, as the regulations get written, engage with the regulators so that the legislation turns into good regulation,” said Acheson.

“I’m a believer–I was as a regulator and now in the private sector–that our food supply is one of the safest on the planet. The safest?  Maybe not, but one of the safest,” he said.  “[But] consumers are now at a point where they want food year round and they want every type of food to be available.  They want the food to be safe.  They have zero tolerance for unsafe food, and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.”

With or without the food safety legislation, or a large increase in funding, the FDA is still improving its handle on food safety, according to Acheson.

“I think the agency believes, and I suspect probably rightly, that there’s a lot of things they can do with the authority they already have and are going full speed ahead, assuming the legislation will pass.  There is much greater focus on imported goods, ramping up inspections, opening up foreign offices and the use of more sophisticated information technologies,” he said.

Food Safety News was a media partner for the conference, which was also sponsored by the National Meat Association and the Midwest Food Processors Association.