WASHINGTONThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs more resources to carry out its obligations under the Food Safety Modernization Act, a food-safety official with the agency said Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Last year, FDA said it needed an additional $400 to $450 million to bolster its food-safety efforts.
Speaking in prepared remarks before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Michael Taylor cited challenges in monitoring shipments of imported food. He noted such shipments have skyrocketed from roughly 400,000 annually in the early 1990s to roughly 12 million today.
Taylor said the 3-year-old Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) imposes additional requirements on FDA as it relates to imports.
"Without adequate funding, FDA will be unable to adequately fulfill its oversight responsibilities," said Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine. "This includes implementing the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, which requires new staff and skills to audit and verify the adequacy of the importers verification plan; conducting more foreign inspections; working more closely on food safety with foreign governments to leverage their efforts; and improving our data and import systems to facilitate prompt entry of foods that meet our safety standards."
Taylor said President Obama's FY2014 budget proposes a few fees that would help FDA meet its obligations, including a registration fee for domestic and foreign facilities that must register with FDA. The budget also proposed an import user fee of at least $20 per line entry.
FDA said it has been working hard to meet its food-safety obligations. The agency recently proposed a rule to safeguard food while it's being transported by rail or motor vehicles. Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), Health Subcommittee Chairman, referenced stories of commercial food trucks operating without proper refrigeration.
The transportation rule is the seventh major one under FSMA.
But consumer groups have criticized FDA for missing deadlines, and a federal judge ruled the agency must issue final regulations by June 30, 2015, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Congress passed the law in response to a series of outbreaks of foodborne illness, including a 2009 outbreak of Salmonella that led to more than 700 illnesses including 9 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans fall ill from a foodborne illness each year.
Many important provisions of FSMA are in effect already, CSPI acknowledged. But the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization said more needs to be done.
Despite the progress that has been made, the historic reform law will not yield its full benefits until the agency finalizes those long overdue food safety regulations," CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said in a statement. But it is also important that the FDA get the details right."
Rep. Fred Upton (D-Mich.), Health Committee Chairman, appeared to acknowledge the challenges FDA faces in writing sweeping regulations given the diversity of U.S. farmers, food manufacturers and distributors.