Fed food safety budgets may increase, but not enough

While many federal agencies are facing a freeze in discretionary spending in the next budget, FDA is a notable exception. FDA's budget could actually grow by as much as 23 percent, with much of the new spending focused on food safety.

If Congress approves, it will be food manufacturers who pay for much of the increase in higher user fees. The fees, which would also be paid by generic drug makers, are a big part of the FDA's expanded food safety mandate. It entails more inspections and improved data collection. Under the FDA's proposed budget, the agency's staff could also grow by 10 percent.

Meanwhile, USDA's proposed budget allocation is $149 billion in the coming fiscal year, with discretionary spending down 18 percent over 2009 spending levels. Entitlement spending, however, is up 28 percent. More than 70 percent of USDA's entire budget would pay for nutrition assistance programs.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) praised the proposed increase for FDA but noted funding for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service remains essentially frozen with what she termed a “miniscule” 1.9 percent increase.

“The FSIS is responsible for front-line inspections and recalls, and will be stretched beyond its capacity by the growing population of our country and the resulting increase in food consumption,” DeLauro said in a statement. “FSIS should be given the resources to perform the critical food safety activities that comprise USDA’s public health mission area.”

‘Risk-based' approach to food safety

Eighteen food industry and consumer groups have jointly urged the US Senate to adopt S.510, the FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2009. The measure would give FDA more power and resources to inspect the nation's food supply system.

“The food and beverage industry is committed to partnering with Congress, the Obama Administration and the FDA to strengthen and modernize our nation’s food safety system,” said Grocery Manufacturing Association President and CEO Pamela G. Bailey.

The measure would adopt a “risk-based” approach to inspections, meaning facilities that have had problems in the past would get more attention than those with good records. It would also toughen inspections of imported food and food ingredients, something long sought by US food manufacturers.

USDA announces food safety initiatives for school lunch, other food programs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced several new initiatives to ensure the safety and quality of food purchased by USDA for the National School Lunch Program and other food and nutrition assistance programs.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our nation's school children," said Vilsack. "We must do everything we can to ensure that our kids are being served safe, high-quality foods at school."

The initiatives are a combined effort of five USDA agencies - the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

Some of the initiatives Vilsack announced:

• AMS will implement new food safety purchasing requirements for its beef suppliers as a result of a review of the beef purchase program conducted by FSIS and ARS. AMS will continue its zero tolerance for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 for its products and will continue to use onsite meat acceptance specialists and other control measures.

• In addition to the reviews by FSIS and ARS, AMS asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the ground beef purchasing program. By summer, NAS will evaluate the scientific validity of the current AMS technical requirements. The review will include benchmarking AMS vendor requirements against recognized industry leading programs that supply product directly to consumers.

• AMS will increase information sharing with other agencies to better monitor vendor performance and identify potential food safety issues in the process. Information on in-plant enforcement actions, positive pathogen test results, contract suspensions, recall notifications and more will be better shared between USDA agencies.

• FSA is evaluating and strengthening current requirements and will amend those requirements to better reflect compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices and use of a verified Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program. FSA will ensure that commercial suppliers are able to provide a qualified level of food safety assurance for USDA programs.

These changes and continuous reviews are expected to ensure that the food USDA distributes to school children and others meets high quality and safety standards. Click here to see more of the initiatives.

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