House Appropriators Push for Increased Food Safety Funding

Posted February 28, 2007 at 2:08pm

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration’s funding, today pledged to address “startling” cuts in the agency’s food-safety program.

Citing a recent Government Accountability Office report that the country’s food safety system presented a “high risk” to the public, DeLauro and other lawmakers berated the Bush administration for not taking inflation into account when setting funding levels for fiscal 2008.

The administration has proposed $10.7 million for FDA’s food center, an amount that would result in significant staff reductions, she said at a hearing today. That amount is “nowhere near enough” to do its job effectively, she said.

FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach responded that the agency considers its workforce its top priority and called food safety “an important cornerstone of the FDA’s mission.” But DeLauro and other lawmakers on the House Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture, rural development and related agencies were not convinced.

Republicans on the panel generally agreed that the FDA needs additional resources to handle food-safety challenges. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the money available was “not enough. He cited a 47 percent drop in the number of inspectors from 2003 to 2006 and a 75 percent drop in safety tests over the same period.

“What’s the problem?” Bishop asked von Eschenbach.

The commissioner responded that the agency is taking a more targeted approach, using risk assessments to determine where FDA resources are best used.

The panel will seek more money for the program and also will weigh new standards and management practices to improve the agency’s handling of food safety, DeLauro said in an interview.

Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) gave some clue as to how much additional funding Democrats may seek when asked von Eschenbach how he would use an additional $20 million for food safety. Von Eschenbach answered that he would use it to build further quality into the food production process.

Other lawmakers questioned the disparity between funding for FDA and the Agriculture Department. While the FDA is responsible for 80 percent of food safety regulation, it only receives a tenth of the budget that USDA does, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) said.

The FDA has been under fire after several high profile food outbreaks, including an E. coli outbreak in spinach last year and the recent discovery of Salmonella-tainted peanut butter.