Food safety increase 'tough to swallow,' FDA told

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 - The Food and Drug Administration's request for more money to start enforcing new food safety regulations on domestic and imported foods is getting a cool reception from the lawmakers who write the agency's budget.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that a $150 million increase to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act  in fiscal 2016 would be “tough to swallow.”

Lets Talk Food FDA is in a bind because of court-ordered deadlines for implementing the rules, she told the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. FDA's total food safety budget request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 is $1.5 billion.

“We're asking for this money to do an important set of tasks to modernize our inspection system and do the training necessary,” she said. She said the funding also is important to states, which will have to carry out some of the increased inspection and oversight required by the law.

 

She was somewhat vague, however, when pressed as to the specific problems that would occur if FDA doesn't get more money. She said it would “disrupt what could be a very smooth and efficient implementation process … and create a fragmented effort that won't allow us to realize the benefits of FSMA and won't enable us to ensure industry the benefits they are looking for as well.”

Congress has repeatedly rejected new user fees that FDA proposed to fund implementation of the law.

The chairman of the Agriculture subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said FDA's overall budget would “disregard the debt crisis facing our nation” and said the agency needed to prove it couldn't fund its work out of existing resources. He has warned that overall funding levels for FDA and USDA are likely to remain “relatively flat at best” for 2016.

Hamburg said the agency is on track to meet the implementation deadlines. Regulations setting preventative controls for human food and animal feed are due to the be the first to be finalized, on Aug. 30. Produce safety standards and regulations for imported foods and foreign suppliers must be in place by Oct. 31. The remaining rules are due during the first half of 2016.

The produce standards continue to raise concerns among some farmers, although FDA has revised water-quality rules to soften their impact. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, complained to Hamburg that irrigation water was “being held to the same standard as water for recreational use, like swimming.”

An environmental impact study that FDA commissioned said that most produce growers were unlikely to have to change their water source or stop growing fruit and vegetables because of the microbial limits.

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