Photo courtesy of FDA
Budgets can seem boring, whether in our personal financial lives or in our businesses. And government budgets, as those who have read them will attest, can be positively numbing. But budgets—what we do with our resources—are where vision and reality meet. In the government, budgets express how we will turn our ideas into action.
The need to usher in a new era of food safety in this country based on science-based prevention of food safety problems is widely embraced by consumers, the food industry, and political leaders. And so is the need for a stronger FDA that can help lead the way, in partnership with many actors throughout the food system. Congress is working on legislation that would give FDA the authority and mandate it needs to build a modern, prevention-oriented food safety program.
This month, the President announced his budget request for the next fiscal year, which begins this coming October 1st, including important new funds for food safety at FDA. FDA would receive an additional $326 million for food safety improvements, including $88 million in new "budget authority"—direct appropriations from the Treasury—and $239 million in industry-paid user fees, which require Congressional authorization.
These new funds would enable FDA to make the critical investments that are needed to turn the idea of science-based prevention of food safety problems into action by addressing the top priorities we see before us:
• Inspectors need to get into facilities more often. This was made clear by the infrequent inspections at Peanut Corporation of America, which led to a major recall of products containing peanuts last year.
• We need to set new prevention-oriented food safety standards and ensure that industry complies with them. Standard-setting is a core food safety role as a public health regulatory agency such as FDA.
• We need the science to back up new policies and help us to better target our resources to where the risks are greatest. Unfortunately, food safety risks are not stagnant, and we must keep up with emerging hazards.
• Information systems are also critical, to track food throughout the supply chain and mine data for trends. This is essential to limit the number of people who become ill from unsafe food and for us to learn to prevent the same thing from happening the next time.
• Strengthening import oversight is key. About 15 percent of the food supply is imported, but during certain times of the year that percentage skyrockets, such as with produce in winter. Consumers deserve to know that imported foods meet the same requirements as domestic products.
Meeting these and other challenges will require the funding the President has requested as well as new authorities that Congress has the ability to provide to FDA. We are ready to move beyond rhetoric and see real change happen.