FDA Budget Increase 'A Wash'
Don't be fooled by the seemingly good news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's food-safety program budget may increase: Inflation and staff pay raises would erode the bulk of the Bush administration's proposed $42 million budget increase, leaving the beleaguered agency with minimal added funding in fiscal 2009. Would it be enough to keep Congress, consumer-advocacy groups and the media from continuing to interrogate the safety of imported seafood, particularly Chinese products?
Under the proposed $662 million budget, the FDA's food-safety program would grow its staff by 177 full-time employees, to 2,810, boost the number of domestic and foreign food-facility inspections significantly and open an office in China. Industry officials and lobbyists agreed it's a start but expressed disappointment that the budget increase wasn't higher. Here's what they had to say:
- National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly said in a press release the budget increase "will enable the FDA to implement some but not all components of [the Import Safety Working Groupâ??s Food Protection Plan], leaving the hardworking men and women at FDA once again underfunded."
- William Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner and spokesman for the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, which is calling for the agency's budget to double over the next five years, calls the budget increase "a wash." "For foods, the increase announced was $32 million, plus another $10 million for veterinary products, for a total 'food-safety' increase of $42 million. Of the $32 million for the food program, the agency will need $30.5 million just to keep up with inflation, so there's basically nothing left after that," says Hubbard in an e-mail. "So [the FDA] will do nothing more next year than this, although there may be some shifting of resources to, say, imports. But if that happens, some other part of the food program will be reduced."
- Peter Barton Hutt, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling, a member of the FDA Science Board and a former FDA chief counsel, mimicked Hubbard's concerns during a Jan. 29 congressional hearing. "In the history of our country, no other federal regulatory agency has faced such an onslaught of new statutory mandates without appropriate funding and personnel to implement them," he said.
There is a chance that Congress will increase the FDA's budget beyond President Bush's recommendation. Given what industry officials and lobbyists are saying and the numerous hearings Congress has held on food safety in the past 18 months, it will likely happen. Let's hope so.