As August recess comes to an end on Capitol Hill, new details are emerging about the appropriations process that will impact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.
Today the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to mark up a yet-to-be released bill setting spending levels for FDA and USDA. A Hill source confirmed with Food Safety News that the Senate version gives FDA approximately $350 million more than the appropriations bill the House passed in June. The figure would be around $50 million more than FDA’s FY 11 budget, a substantial increase in an extremely tough fiscal environment.
The committee’s effort to increase FDA funding as the agency implements the newly-enacted, ambitious Food Safety Modernization Act stands in stark opposition to the House version of the bill, which would cut the FDA’s budget by $285 million — or 11 percent –compared with FY 11, including an $87 million cut to food safety.
The House bill would also cut USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service by $35 million compared to FY 11, a less than 4 percent cut for meat, poultry and processed egg inspection. It is not yet clear what the Senate will allocate for FSIS.
During the House debate on the spending bill in June, Democrats and Republicans sparred over spending levels on food safety.
“This bill actually moves us backward in protecting the food supply,” said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), Ranking Member of House Appropriations Committee said on the floor. Dicks believes the cuts increase the risk of “recurring outbreaks” because it would weaken the agency’s capacity to conduct inspections.
Republican lawmakers argued that government spending needed to be cut and that the free market incentivises food safety.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing FDA and USDA budgets, defended the Republican proposal to cut funding in the face of staggering debt.
Kingston cited the lowered rate of E. coli O157:H7 in the U.S. and said that the food safety rate in the U.S. is about “99.9 percent safe.”
Kingston praised the private sector for maintaining such a high level of food safety without the “nanny state.”
“That’s the private sector working,” added Kingston. “The way you keep your customers coming back to buy more is by keeping them safe.”
Details on spending levels for the variety of programs under the Senate ag appropriations bill — from conservation to agricultural research — will be released at mark up this afternoon, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. EST in Dirksen.
Along with the FY 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, the committee will consider Energy and Water Development; and Homeland Security appropriation bills.