The new food safety law gives the U.S. food protection system a much-needed renovation. But in the face of budget shortages, getting these new rules off the drawing board and into practice may prove difficult.

That is the conclusion of a commentary on the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The article calls FSMA “a remarkable step forward for the food safety system,” in that it strengthens regulation of imported foods, puts a greater emphasis on preventing foodborne illness before it begins, and allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue mandatory recalls of products.

However, the act lacks deadlines for implementing many of its reforms, the authors point out. And FDA will probably not be able to devote its ever-shrinking funds to programs without a concrete timeline.

“The big issue is going to be whether FDA will have enough money to do all these different things that the law authorizes them to do and tells them they need to do,” said Kate Stewart, lead author of the paper and fellow at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law in an interview with Food Safety News.

Stewart says that while mandatory recall authority went into effective immediately and there are concrete deadlines for increasing import monitoring, no such incentives exist for scaling up food safety training programs for domestic producers, state agencies and foreign regulators, another requirement of the law.

Another shortcoming of the Act, the article says, is that it left food regulation responsibilities split between FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), instead of putting them under the jurisdiction of a single agency.

The Government Office of Accountability, the Institute of Medicine and many others have recommended that food inspections be combined under one authority. And while FSMA recommends greater coordination between FDA and USDA, it keeps their duties decidedly separate, says the article.

“I don’t think that there’s going to be any going back to make that a fix in the future,” said Stewart. “As much as it did great things for public health, this act sort of solidified this divide between FDA and USDA and they will continue to have pretty distinct…roles in ensuring food safety.”

Right now, USDA inspects meat, poultry and shelled eggs, while FDA is responsible for all other foods, including egg products, fruits and vegetables, dairy, nuts and fish — with the exception of catfish, which falls under USDA supervision. 

The commentary also points out that FSMA neglected to address USDA’s role in food protection. Although USDA receives more funding and conducts more rigorous testing of products under its control, it could still use an update, says Stewart.

“Now that we’re more concerned with (more diverse) hazards in meat, the USDA needs a fair bit of overhaul of its authority,” she says. “Not necessarily more or less authority, but different authority to use science of today to regulate food rather than science of the past few decades or even centuries.”

Moving forward, the commentary recommends that the FDA partner with government and industry both in the U.S. and abroad to achieve FSMA’s goals.

“International cooperation is needed to regulate food contaminants, monitor food safety, and assist developing countries in establishing food safety systems.”