A slight cut in one and a tiny bump in the other might sum up President Obama’s proposed budgets for federal food safety, an area which doesn’t even make his budget highlights for either the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And, while silent on food safety, budget highlights for USDA depict it as an expansive agency with new missions in energy and rural development, in addition to its traditional role in combating hunger. Bees and broadband also get highlighted in the president’s USDA budget totaling $23.7 billion, but not food safety. In the murky detail, however, the budget document cuts USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to $1.0 billion, down from $1.1 billion in the current fiscal year. That doesn’t sound like much of a cut. Yet at a time when poultry inspection reform has been held up over the possibility of union positions being eliminated, the president’s budget does trim 202 authorized and 60 actual positions from overall FSIS staffing levels. On the appropriations side of the proposed FSIS budget, there is a cut of $9 million. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters that reduction was justified by an 11-percent decline in the incidence of illness from the meat, poultry and processed eggs it inspects. However, the proposed budget keeps the number of foodborne illness outbreaks it expects to investigate unchanged at 23.
Vilsack also said that a new poultry-inspection system that includes more company involvement and speeded-up lines would save money.
The president also wants a budget proviso to guarantee that no fewer than 148 full time FSIS employees will be dedicated to enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. While the president’s budget includes cuts in the full-time employees it can hire, FSIS is charged with providing federally funded inspection services to the same number of meat, poultry and egg plants. FSIS inspectors are currently on the job at 6,631 federally inspected establishments, and that number is not expected to change on Oct. 1 when the 2015 federal fiscal year begins. Highlights of the $77.1-billion HHS budget make no mention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) need to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Of course, HHS has plenty more going on, including the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare. FDA gets $2.6 billion in budget authority and $4.7 billion in overall resources. The increase in expenditure authority is less than $100,000. An extra $24 million is set aside for food safety, about the same amount FDA is getting to bring so-called “compounding pharmacies” under control. Food safety experts are likely to argue that the executive budget shortchanges FDA’s food safety mission, especially given the size, scope and expectations for FSMA. Both the FSIS and FDA budgets anticipate raising some funds from fees levied on the food industry. FDA’s budget contains an estimate of $169 million for food import services and another $60 million from fees for registrations and inspections. USDA’s budget says fees will be charged for activities that are not mandated. The food safety budgets are included in Obama’s proposed $3.9-trillion budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2015. It includes $1.1 trillion in tax increases and will still add $556 billion to the deficit. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Obama’s budget “isn’t a serious document, it’s a campaign brochure.” Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) negotiated the current fiscal 2014 budget. Obama’s budget reportedly does follow budget limits that Ryan and Murray came up with. This year’s budget deficit is projected to be $649 billion, toward a total debt that now well exceeds $17 trillion. The president’s budget will now go to the House and Senate budget committees.