Key food safety agencies will likely escape major budget cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to new details released by congressional appropriators.
Though lawmakers reached an historic agreement late last Friday to avoid federal government shutdown up against an expiring stop-gap budget measure, the details of the roughly $38 billion in cuts in the long-term resolution to fund the government through September are only starting to emerge.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency faced with increased authority and a growing mandate, not only avoided cuts, but is slated to receive $107 million more than it did in FY 2010, a 4 percent increase in the face of government-wide cuts.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection service is in position to receive about $10 million less than FY 2010, “while allowing for uninterrupted meat, poultry, and egg products inspection,” according to a summary released by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).
The Alliance for a Stronger FDA, a coalition made up of consumer, industry, and public health groups in both food and drugs, lauded lawmakers for “recognizing that FDA needs to be better funded, despite tremendous downward pressure on the federal budget.” The Alliance has been lobbying Capitol Hill, emphasizing that a strong FDA can benefit the public health and the economy.
“Congress heard our message that a robust well-funded FDA is essential for patients, consumers and industry,” said Nancy Bradish Myers, president of the Alliance and president of Catalyst Healthcare Consulting. “Safe foods and safe and effective medical products are possible only if FDA has the resources and manpower to address complex science and increasing globalization.”
The Senate Appropriations summary says the funding level for FDA takes into account the government’s distinct responsibility “to protect public health and safety, especially in the areas of food, drugs, medical devices and biologics” and notes that the funding level will allow the agency to begin implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Both Scott Faber, vice president of public affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest — who both serve as Alliance board members — emphasized FDA’s role in food safety.
“Both the food industry and consumers benefit from a strong FDA and a growing economy,” said Faber in a statement.
DeWaal pointed out that the food industry has a major impact: “Food contributes nearly $1.2 trillion to our economy, or 8% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Ensuring the safety of our food supply is as essential as providing for our national defense.”
Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, Food and Water Watch, blasted the budget deal for “decimating” water protections — the deal includes a significant cut to the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds — but conceded that the budget cuts to food safety are “not as dire.”
Though the group’s executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement Tuesday that not fulfilling the president’s request for FDA (the resolution is about $11 million below Obama’s FY ’11 request) would “make it hard” for FDA to implement the sweeping new food safety act signed into law in January, adding that FWW is concerned the cut to FSIS could put catfish inspection in jeopardy.
Congress is expected to vote on the longer-term continuing resolution, which would be the largest non-defense spending cut in U.S. history, late this week. The interim stop-gap budget measure is set to expire Friday night.