Unless Congress does something dramatic, most government agencies will see an automatic 8 percent budget cut as of the first of the year — a consequence of the deal struck during the contentious fight over raising the debt ceiling in 2011. As Food Safety News reported yesterday, the impending sequestration has the Alliance for a Stronger FDA pretty nervous about what budget sequestration would mean for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency that is trying to rebuild after decades of flatline budgets. The agency faces a rapidly growing responsibility of keeping food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and drugs safe in the midst of increasing globalization. “I think sequestration is something that every agency is looking at,” said FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, Michael Taylor, during Q&A Tuesday at the agency’s Science Writer’s Symposium. “There’s no question that an absolute reduction [with the levels called for with sequestration] would be a huge blow to our progress on food safety. We’re a very personnel driven agency in terms of our budget.” Taylor said that the food safety program at FDA is already “thin” compared to its mission. “The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, which has a central role in implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, has had the same permanent FTE [full time equivalent] staffing level as it did in 1992, before the explosion of imports, before the overall growth in the complexity and size that we see in the food system, even before FSMA was enacted,” said Taylor. “We need to beef up the staffing at CFSAN and other parts of the program, so anything that forces us to backward — you can just imagine the effect that it would have.” Taylor said FDA was coming up short for FSMA resources, the food program has only seen about a $100 million increase since 2010 even though the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $1.5 billion over 5 years to implement the new law. “One way or another, we’ve got to find a way to fund this, or we will simply not be able to fulfill the vision that underlies this law,” added Taylor. When asked about why the Food Safety Modernization Act rules are being held up at White Office of Management and Budget, Taylor declined to share any details. Four of the new law’s most central rules — preventive controls for food facilities, feed facilities, import verification, and produce safety — have been under review at OMB for more than 8 months, far longer than the 90 day review limit for economically significant regulations. “It is complicated. There are four rules that have to work well together,” explained Taylor. “There’s been the normal back and forth [with OMB]. They’ll be cleared when they’re cleared. There’s not much more that I can say.” Some stakeholders worry that the election is holding up the rules because they could be construed as “job killing” during the economic recovery, even though the food industry, public health and consumer groups are all calling for the rules to be released so the rulemaking process can begin.

Food Safety Newspressed Taylor once more: Does FDA expect the rules to be cleared soon?”They’ll be cleared when they’re cleared,” said Taylor. “You know, the process is not totally in our control. We’ll get there… We have enormous momentum. There’s a lot going on, moving us down the pathway of implementing FSMA.”