Just three years ago, food safety policy enjoyed both adult bipartisan leadership and a sense of urgency from the events that caused Congress to pass the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Both the urgency and the adult leadership have since evaporated for food safety. Future policy is going to be left to that barely functioning Washington, D.C., institution — the budget process. As political science majors are always told at some point, budget is policy. At this early stage, just after the president’s budget requests have been published, food safety advocates have cause for feeling queasy about how food safety is going to fare. It’s actually double-down time on the queasy because there are concerns about both the FDA and USDA food safety budgets. Let’s take FDA first. Mike Taylor, the agency’s Commissioner for Food and Veterinary Medicine, has been getting the FSMA rocket ready to launch. He calls it the “ongoing implementation.” Anyone who’s been following development of all the FSMA implementation standards has probably at one time or another thought the same thing: “Boy, this is this going to take a lot of people to make it work!” Taylor addressed this concern in more formal bureaucratic terms in his February report to the House Commerce and Energy Committee: “The determination that we have all made to improve the safety of our food supply requires two fundamental steps,” he said. “The first was to give FDA the mandate and tools to modernize the food safety system, and I applaud you for doing that via enactment of the FSMA. The second is to give FDA the capacity to carry out the numerous changes embodied in the law. It is that challenge that we must continue to address. Simply put, we cannot achieve our objective of a safer food supply without a significant increase in resources.” How much is required for FDA to do the food safety job we all agreed that we wanted done? Here it gets a little murky. Previous official estimates for the first two years of FSMA implementation were $580 million and recalculated last year at $400 to $450 million. FSMA implementation funding comes in at $200 million for fiscal 2015 in the president’s request. But how much is new money? In FDA’s 210-page “Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committees, we think we found the answer. It’s more than $263 million. Quoting from the document: “The FY 2015 Budget provides a program level of $1.48 billion for food safety, which is $263 million above the FY 2014 Enacted level. Within this amount, FDA will invest $24 million in budget authority to further advance recent gains in food safety modernization through implement of FSMA. This request also includes $255 million in proposed new user fees.” Budget realities include an apparent gap between those earlier estimates of how much it will cost to implement FSMA and the fact that Congress has never gone for much in the way of food safety fees. If fees don’t materialize, that gap gets pretty wide. Then there’s the budget request for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). For 2015, FSIS is requesting just over $1 billion, about the same as this year. To be precise, the request is for $9.3 million less than this year. To be clear, in a $1-billion budget, a $9.3-million reduction is almost a “rounding error.” However, in a press conference earlier this month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked about whether the reduction “may adversely affect food safety,” Citing what he called “recent data,” the Secretary pointed to an “11 percent decrease in the number of illnesses attributed to products that FSIS is responsible for inspecting year to year. That’s 52,000 fewer illnesses.” While most recognize that FSIS has achieved some reductions in E. coli contamination of beef, Vilsack’s comments at the presser sent the head-scratchers looking for the source of his data. It turned out to be so-called “all illness” performance measures based on CDC data. Those queasy over-the-billion-dollar FSIS budgets have concerns that go beyond the numerals. Vilsack has made it clear he plans to overhaul poultry inspection. He is confident the first system-wide change in poultry inspections will result “in some decline in illnesses as a result.” Aside from that move, which actually produces some budget savings well beyond $9.3 million, there’s a feeling that FSIS is going into a period to digest and process what it’s taken on — like its declaration of the additional six E. coli strains as adulterants. The president has not yet appointed someone to fill the statutory vacancy of Under Secretary for Food Safety, USDA has not responded to the Center for Science in the Public Interest petition calling for the agency to declare antibiotic-resistant Salmonella as adulterant, and White House interest in food safety is not what it was at the beginning of this administration. From a food safety perspective, then, the questions are pretty straightforward. Will Mike Taylor get enough for FSMA enforcement? And, will Tom Vilsack accomplish enough to quell the many FSIS critics?