Food-Safety Inspections to Dwindle Thanks to Sequester

April 29, 2013

2 Min Read
Food-Safety Inspections to Dwindle Thanks to Sequester

WASHINGTONThe sequester will delay the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) implementation of the 2-year-old Food Safety Modernization Act and result in fewer food-safety inspections, the agency's top-ranking official told the editorial board of USA TODAY.

Thanks to the loss of $209 million in funds due to the $85 billion in government spending cuts, FDA will conduct 2,100 fewer inspections, representing an 18% decline from last year, the newspaper reported.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told USA TODAY the agency will prioritize programs that have the biggest impact, such as outbreaks of disease.  

The decrease is inspections is not a surprise. Earlier this year, the White House cautioned there could be 2,100 fewer food inspections at domestic and foreign facilities if the sequester took effect. 

Analyzing the impact of the sequester, FDA estimated its import line inspection rate would plunge 24% in 2013 versus 2011, according to a study conducted by Democrats in the House Appropriations Committee. Limiting the agency's funding growth to 2% a year would jeopardize FDA's ability to maintain its already miniscule inspection rate of imported foods, lawmakers warned.

Steven Grossman, deputy executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, characterizes the impact of sequestration as "'death by a thousand cuts.'"

"There will be delays in a broad range of responsibilities but nothing that could be defined in advance as dramatic changes that will be visible to the general population," he wrote in a blog April 26.

But a representative of Consumers Union expressed concern to USA TODAY that sequestration will lead to more outbreaks of foodborne illness.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was crafted to prevent such bacteria-ridden incidents, although FDA needs adequate resources to implement the law.

Earlier this month, the agency announced requesting an additional $295.8 million in food-safety funds in fiscal year 2014 beyond its funding levels in FY12. Most of those funds ($252.4 million) would consist of user fees that are passed onto companies while the remainder ($43.4 million) would be taxpayer dollars.

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