President seeks more food safety funding for FDA

Jun 10, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt announced yesterday that the Bush administration has boosted its fiscal year 2009 budget request by $275 million to increase funds for new food and medical product safety initiatives at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In an evening conference call with the media, Leavitt said the proposal would raise the total proposed increase in the FDA's' 2009 budget request to $404.7 million, a 17.8% increase from 2008. He said the extra funding would be offset by reductions in other federal discretionary funding.

"Combined with crucial legislative proposals, this increase will allow the FDA to continue to transform its regulatory strategies to meet the challenges of the evolving global marketplace," Leavitt said in a press release yesterday from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In November, in the wake of several high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks and problems with imported products, HHS proposed a wide-ranging food safety plan containing 14 broad recommendations and 50 action steps to address the concerns. Some would require new authorities from Congress, such as the power to mandate food recalls when companies don't initiate them voluntarily.

Since the release of the plan, the FDA has held several stakeholder meetings to solicit feedback on the plan, and on Apr 1 announced that it was seeking public comment on the plan through Jul 30.

"These changes require new resources," Leavitt told reporters. "For the health of the American people, we need Congress to act on these commonsense proposals."

He said the extra funding would, for example, help establish import safety offices in China, India, and Central America, permit more risk-based inspections, improve trace-back investigations, and expand lab capacity.

Of the extra $275 million requested, about $125 million is for the FDA's food protection plan, $100 million is for improving drug, device, and biologics safety, and $50 million would go toward modernizing the FDA's scientific capabilities and workforce, according to the HHS press release.

FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach told reporters that the extra funding would allow the agency to hire 490 more people than it had originally planned, which represents a 15% increase that will allow the agency to "rebuild the workforce and intellectual capital."

"These are opportunities for us to take our science to the level that is needed to address the kind of outbreaks that we see today, even with regards to the Salmonella outbreak in tomatoes," he said.

In late April, Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Washington, DC, issued a report that detailed a long list of problems at the FDA, including severe underfunding. The report recommended that Congress double FDA funding over the next 5 years.

Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH, praised the budget amendment to increase funds for the FDA. "It's always great when this administration asks for more money for public health," he told CIDRAP News.

He said it's still not clear what specific amount would go toward implementing each specific part of the FDA's proposed food protection plan. Congress will be able to react more appropriately when it sees links between the plan and the needed funding, Levi said.

See also:

Jun 9 HHS press release

Apr 30 CIDRAP News story "Health group urges overhaul of US food safety program"

Apr 1 CIDRAP News story "FDA seeks comments on food safety plan"

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