The passage of an ambitious new food safety act (Food Safety Modernization Act) presents a new challenge to an old problem at FDA: will the agency receive the funding it needs to implement the new system and effectively undertake its new enforcement activities?
In a press teleconference today, FDA Chief Peggy Hamburg said some of the mandated activities the bill requires of FDA were previously set in motion by the agency, so they will be theoretically introduced more quickly and efficiently. However, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the cost of the new food safety system at around $1.4 billion over five years. Hamburg, who said Congress has basically told FDA to build a new system for monitoring and enforcing food safety, was not terribly forthcoming about her agency’s expectations for receiving the funding needed to meet this cost.
FDA has been among the few agencies to receive moderate increases in the President’s budget, but it remains to be seen how much Congress will ultimately appropriate. Confirming the estimated numbers, Erik Olson, director of Food and Consumer Safety Programs at the Pew Health Group, said his group will join industry and consumer organizations in urging Congress to increase FDA funding for the good of the country’s food supply. “It would be money well spent," he said. “It is wise to spend now to save in the long run.”
While not specific about funding and the ability to meet the Act’s requirements, Hamburg did say she expects the agency’s projected partnerships with state and local governments as well as other relevant entities will create synergies and efficiencies that will help the cost situation.
Considering the agency has to build an entirely new system of preventive measures to safeguard the food supply and institute an action plan involving inspections of domestic and imported foods, as well as initiate recalls when necessary, the funding issue will be a central focus of this Act in 2011 and the following few years.
Once again, FDA funding takes center stage in the country’s ability to serve public health and maintain access to foods.