Food groups push back against user fees to fund food safety law

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — An April 17 letter to Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, respectively, and signed by 54 food and beverage industry trade associations, outlined why user fees should not be used to fund implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Two new user fees were included in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2014.

Calling user fees “food regulatory taxes,” the letter said that if the F.D.A. requires additional funds to support F.S.M.A. implementation and food inspection activities the agency should request such funding through the appropriations process rather than seeking authorization of new user fees, which the trade groups noted Congress has repeatedly rejected.

“Over the past five years, F.D.A. has been one of the few federal agencies to receive discretionary funding increases through the annual appropriations process,” the letter said. “In fact, Congress provided approximately $12.8 million in the recently passed F.Y. 2013 continuing resolution to support F.D.A.’s implementation of F.S.M.A.”

The two new user fees would be collected from food importers and users of the F.D.A.’s food contact notification program. The food import user fee would allow the F.D.A. to collect an estimated $166 million, and feature exemptions for small importers and a maximum charge for large importers. The food contact notification user fee would generate an estimated $4,548,000.

The president’s proposed budget also includes the food establishment registration and inspection user fee, which was required under the F.S.M.A.

“As food and beverage companies and consumers continue to cope with a period of prolonged economic turbulence, the creation of a new food tax would burden food makers with higher costs and consumers with higher food prices,” the food groups said in the letter. “We urge Congress to provide F.D.A. with sufficient funds to meet its food safety responsibilities without saddling food makers and consumers with new regulatory taxes.”
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