I listened in on yesterday's White House conference call announcing that President Obama would sign the Food Safety Modernization Act today.
Speakers said the new bill will give the FDA the tools and authority it needs to help prevent the CDC's new estimates of the annual burden of foodborne illness: 48 million cases, 180,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths.
But they barely mentioned the elephant in the room: funding. The estimated cost of the new provisions is $1.4 billion, which will certainly require new appropriations at a time when Republican lawmakers balk at the mere thought. Fortunately, reporters pressed hard on this issue. Where, asked Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, is the money coming from?
The FDA's not-quite-satisfactory answer: the agency already has resources available from increased funding over the last several years and it "will work closely with industry in partnership."
As reporters for The Washington Post explain today:
Rep. Jack Kingston, who hopes to become chairman of the agriculture subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said that "our food supply is 99.999 percent safe"....He questioned giving the agency more money.
"I think we'll look very carefully at the funding before we support $1.4 billion," he told The Associated Press in an interview Monday, speaking of Republicans who will control the House when Congress comes back into session Wednesday.
Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post noted that Republicans say we already have the safest food supply in the world and don't need more money. What, she asked, can FDA do without additional funds? And when?
But nobody talked about the timing. New laws require the FDA to engage in interminable rulemaking procedures: writing rules, opening them for public comment, commenting on the comments, re-writing rules, opening them for public comment, and, eventually, arriving at final rules.
What is FDA supposed to do in the meantime? It can move more quickly by issuing "guidance" or "interim final rules."
I'm hoping that the FDA is ready for this and will issue such things soon.
This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.