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Published March 05, 2012, 11:38 AM

Food safety funding

WASHINGTON — U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Feb. 29 that if her agency does not get more money to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, she can already predict an increase in foodborne illness and problems with imported food.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Feb. 29 that if her agency does not get more money to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, she can already predict an increase in foodborne illness and problems with imported food.

“We are not as a nation putting the resources into food safety that we should,” Hamburg told House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif., after Farr noted that Congress has been unwilling to give FDA the resources it has requested and that the Obama administration’s proposed program of $220 million in user fees is opposed by the food industry and unlikely to be passed.

The FDA is in charge of almost all food except for the meat, poultry and egg products that are inspected by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Hamburg said the lack of funding is “an enormous concern” because the results of not improving the system are predictable. In what appeared to be a defense of the proposed user fees, Hamburg noted that outbreaks of food-borne illness are costly to the industry because people stop eating the foods that have been implicated in those outbreaks.

The FDA and Congress have “an enormous opportunity” to improve the system using the Food Safety Modernization Act, which Congress passed in 2010 and President Barack Obama signed in early 2011 after a series of outbreaks and contamination incidents involving both domestic and imported food, Hamburg said.

Hamburg also noted that the volume of food imports is rising and already amounts to 15 percent of the U.S. food supply, including 50 percent of fresh fruits, 20 percent of fresh vegetables and 80 percent of seafood.

“These imports originate from more than 250,000 foreign establishments in 200 countries each year,” Hamburg said. “As a nation, we enjoy the benefits of — but are simultaneously put at risk by — a global food supply.”

She noted that the law calls for the FDA to create food safety standards for produce; comprehensive implementation of preventive controls across all food and feed facilities; new inspection frequency mandates for food facilities; an entirely new import oversight system and mandated presence overseas; and a mandate to build capacity of state and foreign governments to achieve harmonization and leverage resources.

A coalition of 30 food industry groups ranging from the American Meat Institute to the American Frozen Food Institute and the National Grain and Feed Association sent House appropriations leaders a letter Feb. 23 noting that Congress had rejected the user fee concept in passing the bill.

“Imposing new fees on food facilities would represent a food safety tax on consumers,” the groups wrote. “As food companies and consumers continue to cope with a period of prolonged economic turbulence, the creation of a new food tax would mean higher costs for food makers and higher food prices for our consumers.”

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