House lawmakers sparred over proposed cuts to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an appropriations markup on Tuesday. A proposal unveiled by House Republicans Monday seeks $285 million in cuts to the FDA in Fiscal Year 2012, an 11.5 percent reduction from FY 2011, just as the agency is working to implement a sweeping new food safety law.

Former chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), told Republicans on the panel that she believes their cuts, which were approved by the subcommittee in a voice vote Tuesday, will roll back “years of progress on food safety.”

DeLauro, who called foodborne illness a “major” threat to public health, challenged Republicans on the spending measure, adding that she believes the proposal is “unacceptable.”

“FDA is the cornerstone of our food safety system,” said DeLauro during markup, noting that she believes the agency has had “limited funding and an outdated mandate.”

“We passed the Food Safety Modernization Act to give the FDA better tools and this proposal would undo all of that,” she said. “We should be strengthening our food safety system, not eviscerating it.”

DeLauro cited a recent GAO report on imported seafood safety oversight, which called FDA’s system limited and called for more testing, as the most recent example of why Congress should support strengthening FDA’s oversight of food products.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), chair of the subcommittee, emphasized the austere budget circumstances in which Congress is operating. It’s “been tight for all of us,” he said. “We have tried our best to focus on waste and duplication.”

Consumer and regulatory advocates blasted the proposal as a threat to public health.

“FDA is a pre-eminent public health agency that assures that our food supply is safe and that drugs, vaccines and medical devices are safe and effective,” said Christopher Waldrop, an Alliance for a Stronger FDA board member and director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute. “Multiple times every day, Americans use products for which FDA has oversight responsibilities. There is no back-up if the agency isn’t there.”
“FDA’s job is much like national defense – -essential to our nation’s well-being — and providing protection that is too often taken for granted until a crisis occurs,” said Richard Buckley, who also serves on the board for the Allaince, and is VP of Federal Government Affairs, at AstraZeneca. “Now is not the time to cut the FDA, even with economic pressures to decrease the deficit. A strong FDA is welcomed by the industries it oversees and spurs innovation that drives our economy.”  

  • Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute said: “[The] FDA is a pre-eminent public health agency that assures that our food supply is safe and that drugs, vaccines and medical devices are safe and effective,”.
    Richard Buckley, VP of Federal Government Affairs, at AstraZeneca said: “[The] FDA’s job is much like national defense – -essential to our nation’s well-being — and providing protection that is too often taken for granted until a crisis occurs,”
    Does this mean that the food producers and drug manufacturers are so lacking in ethics that even their representatives believe they can no longer be trusted to produce safe food or safe and effective drugs without massive government regulation? I have wondered about this for some time, but it is disheartening to hear those on the inside of these organizations state it publicly and speak out for increased regulation.
    When these people think more regulation is the right thing, I think we are all in a world of hurt and perhaps an, 11 % cut is not enough. Perhaps we need to be looking to cut 20% or more then prosecute those that fail to make safe and effective products.

  • Karyla Parrish

    I agree and also there are so many drugs out there that the FDA has approved that have killed people and had to be taken off the market a few years later. So where is the protection for the public there? All the drug ads on TV list so many side effects of these synthetic drugs, that it’s better to deal with the disease than the side effects. Too much regulation is just as bad as not enough and maybe worse.

  • Malynda

    I have to agree with the 2 comments before me…the organization passes these drugs that kill and nothing is done, but MORE over sight? I just don’t get it. It is an incestuous relationship between the industry it is supposed to “police” and the FDA. I say, fire them all and start over with a list of policies that are logical and support the public’s best interest and not that of the pharmaceutical companies and/or the food manufacturer’s. In my mind, it is just that easy cuz’ what is being done, has not been working.

  • James

    As a forensic scientist working in food and dietary supplement safety, I see more problems than ever. However, Commissioner Hamburg has come down hard on big pharma and I have seen more warning letters go out to big pharma, food and supplement companies since she took over heading the FDA than ever before. I really believe that she is not “business as usual” and since taking her position, dangerous drugs like sibutramine have been pulled from the market. The FDA has been chronically underfunded and is still grappling with the daunting task of inspecting facilities and monitoring imports with CBE. Crises such as melamine in animal feed, E coli in spinach & sprouts, clandestine drugs in supplements from abroad and countless other issues can only be addressed by having enough inspectors and enough enforcement. Without adequate oversight, the good players in all these industries have to compete against the unethical companies. FDA does a lot more than people think. In the past, I agree that it did seem that FDA was in the pocket of big pharma and big corporations. However, I think that this cut supports those big powerhouses in doing what they want. It is the opposite of what we really need. A totally unregulated free market economy only works in theory. As long as there are scumbags out there who are willing to kill kids for profit, we need FDA and other agencies.
    Every day, I see case after case of gross negligence and total disregard for consumer safety from many industries. However, the food, supplements and medicines we use every day pose perhaps the greatest risk to consumers. In my dealings with industry stakeholders, I often find that there is a lack of understanding in what they need to do to maintain quality products and hygienic facilities. In a global community as large as ours, we do need some regulatory oversight. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big opponent of big government passing laws to protect me from myself. However, that is not what this is about. It is about passing laws that protect you from powerful corporations and fly-by-night companies that care more about money than your health and safety as consumers.

  • This is absolutely ridiculous. How can House Republicans one day pass the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and the five months later decide to reduce FDA funding, essentially gutting FSMA. Food safety is too important to allow this to happen. Look what is happening in Europe. They are experiencing a huge outbreak of E.coli. We need strong oversight and regulation to ensure the safety of our food.