Obama’s budget proposal attempts to fill FSMA funding gap, but likely falls short, industry claims

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President Obama’s fiscal budget proposal significantly bolsters funding for food safety, but industry stakeholders doubt it is enough to ensure the Administration’s desired legacy.

The proposed fiscal 2017 budget, released earlier this week, requests a significant 15% hike over last year’s budget coming to $1.6 billion in funds to support FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act to create a fully integrated, prevention-based food safety system.

The vast majority of the increase – $1.5 billion – would go to FDA, with the remaining $52 million going to CDC.

FDA would use the money to better train inspectors, enforcement personnel and compliance officers on finding evidence of hazards, as well as create a better system for the agency and states to share information to reduce the risk of unnecessary repeat inspections by the two groups, according the Health and Human Services’ budget justification.

It also would bulk up education and technical assistance for industry, implement the Foreign Supplier Verification Program and ensure consumers are able to make healthy food choices, according to HHS.

The CDC would focus on monitoring and surveillance, data analysis and distributing technical guidance and training.

An additional $8.5 million would go to modernizing food safety through the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. It would help develop and deploy tools for reducing food borne illness, sequencing bacterial genomes to improve accuracy and speed of catching and managing outbreaks.

USDA adds the funds also would help implement the New Poultry Inspection System.

The Administration also requests $700 million to increase USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which would indirectly support food safety by “providing farmers with the information they need to farm sustainably and profitably” without further damaging soil, water and air, Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment program, said in a written statement.

Not enough funds

While the budget request is a step in the right direction, it “falls far short of the next investment needed in our new preventive approach and food safety for public health,” Barbara Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said in a statement.

She suggests the states would need an additional $100 million in fiscal year 2017 to meet FSMA’s goals.

The American Frozen Food Institute echoed Glenn’s dismayed sentiments, noting in a statement: “Providing sufficient federal resources to adequately fund FDA’s critical food safety activities without increasing costs for consumers and food makers is of paramount importance.”

User fees proposed

AFFI’s criticism extends to new user fees in the proposed budget.

The proposed user fees include a food import fee that HHS says would help prevent the import of unsafe foods earlier in the process rather than detaining them at the border. It also would help streamline port-of-entry screening processes and increase staffing.

The budget also proposes user fees for food facility registration and inspection, cosmetic safety, food contact substances and international couriers.

While FDA currently charges user fees for some third party inspections, it hasn’t had luck expanding that authority to other areas in previous budget requests.

AFFI and NASDA urge Congress to continue blocking such user fees and rather provide the funds through other means.

“FSMA remains largely underfunded”

If Congress denies the budget request, HHS argues FDA would not be able to implement fundamental elements of FSMA for domestic food and feed safety in a timely fashion.

“FSMA remains a largely underfunded mandate. Therefore, it is not practical for FDA to offset this funding to accommodate the additional activities outline in the initiative,” HHS warns. As it is, the agency notes, already “FDA has proactively reprioritized current resources, including the FY 2016 increase, to ensure they are directed to the highest priorities for food and feed safety modernization.”

The proposed budget now moves to Congress where the House and Senate will draft their own budgets with their priorities – all of which must then be reconciled.

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