The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food safety programs are not treated equally in the $3.7 trillion budget plan released by President Obama Monday.

adminbudget-featured.jpgThe plan, which will set the framework for budget debate on Capitol Hill, asks for approximately $170 million in additional funding for FDA’s food program, not including fees, and for an $8 million cut to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), compared to current funding levels.

Overall, FDA’s budget would receive a 33 percent increase, or about $1 billion in additional funding in fiscal year 2012, for a total of $4.3 billion “to protect and promote the public health.” Commissioner of food and drugs, Margaret Hamburg lauded the proposed increase.

“FDA protects and promotes the health of all Americans through every stage of life,” said Hamburg in a statement Monday. “The breadth of this mandate means that FDA responsibilities continue to grow. The new budget contains new resources so that FDA can fulfill its growing responsibilities to the American public.”

Alliance for a Stronger FDA applauded the Obama administration from sparing the agency responsible for regulating a quarter of the U.S. economy from substantial budget cuts.

“The President has demonstrated his understanding of FDA’s critical mission, particularly in the food safety area, and has proposed funding consistent with the demands being placed on the agency,” said Nancy Bradish Myers, president of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA and president of Catalyst Healthcare Consulting. “The President has underscored his commitment to deficit reduction, but wisely sees FDA as a necessary exception.”
According to Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for Washington, DC-based Food and Water Watch, the president’s request is about half of what is needed to implement FDA’s new food safety responsibilities. “We hope that in future years, the Administration will make up for what appears to be a modest down payment in FY 2012,” he told Food Safety News in an email response.

Though Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that USDA’s budget request “makes appropriate investments to help us continue to improve the safety of the food Americans eat each day,” the request cuts federal meat inspection by approximately $15 million compared to the current budget–from $904 to $889 million. According to a USDA budget summary, the FSIS Public Health Data Communication Infrastructure System receives a $11 million increase from $28 million in FY 2010.

Budgets for international food safety inspection and state food safety inspection would be cut by $3 million and $1 million, respectively, from $19 to $16 million and $64 to $63 million.

“In this budget, we are cutting programs not because we want to, but because we have to,” said Secretary Vilsack in a statement. “American families have been forced to tighten their belts and government must do the same. The budget fulfills the President’s pledge to completely eliminate earmarks. We are promoting good government and streamlining agency operations in a host of programs.”

Corbo believes the cuts to meat inspection raise red flags for meat safety.

“[W]e are concerned that there are cuts being proposed to the inspection program even though the projected workload for FSIS inspectors is expected to increase in FY 2012,” said Corbo. “It also seems that USDA is throwing in the towel on implementing the catfish inspection program it was directed to do in the 2008 Farm Bill because no money is being set aside for it.”

“I sincerely hope that the money being invested in the Public Health Information System will substantially improve FSIS’ capabilities to enhance public health because I still hear that there are major shortcomings with the software in this new IT system,” added Corbo.

In the USDA’s budget request summary the department says funding will be directed towards addressing emerging foodborne pathogens, including non-O157 E. coli.

The plan calls for a $5.5 million increase to “expand regulatory sampling for key pathogens” and allow the agency to conduct an additional baseline study so that resources can be better focused.

“Motivated by increasing awareness that strains of non-O157:H7 shiga-toxin producing E. coli (non-O157 STECs) are causing human illnesses, the budget includes an increase of $0.7 million to support testing for non-O157 STECs,” the summary reads. “These pathogens cause more than three-quarters of the illnesses associated with the non-O157 STEC group.”

A past look at Obama’s FY 2010 and FY 2011 budget requests indicates that the FY 2012 request is the first time USDA’s request specifically stipulates funding for non-O157 STECs testing.

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another key public health agency that plays a role in the federal food safety system, also takes a small cut under President Obama’s plan–CDC’s budget would go from $6.5 billion in FY 2010 to $5.9 billion in FY 2012–the proposal requests $68 million in additional funding for the National Center for Emerging Pathogens and Zoonotic diseases, which oversees CDC’s food safety functions.

In the coming months, the president’s budget plan will be used as a starting point for what will ultimately have to be a bipartisan budget compromise. As Food Safety News reported last week, Republicans in the House are pushing for big budget cuts at FDA, FSIS, and CDC for the remainder of the year.