House bill cuts food safety funding

by Jay Sjerven
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The House Committee on Appro-priations on May 31 passed a fiscal 2012 agriculture appro-priations bill that would cut funding for food safety agencies from what President Barack Obama requested in his budget proposal and from funding levels authorized for the current year under the continuing resolution passed in April. The bill, passed over Democratic opposition, was referred to the full House.

Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the appro-priations committee, said of the agriculture appropriations bill brought to the full committee by the subcommittee on agriculture, rural development, Food and Drug Administration and related agencies, “As is the goal of all our appropriations bills this year, this legislation reflects hard decisions to cut lower priority programs, reduce spending in programs that can be scaled back, and target funds where they are needed most so that our nation continues on the path to fiscal recovery.”

Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia, chairman of the agriculture subcommittee, said of the bill, “We have taken spending to below pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels while ensuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture, F.D.A., Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other agencies are provided the necessary resources to fulfill their duties. Our members have worked to root out waste and duplication and, where they have strayed from their core mission, we rein in agencies so they may better focus on the responsibilities for which they are intended.”

Democratic opposition to the bill was stiff. Representative Sam Farr of California, ranking member on the agriculture subcommittee, said in his opening statement before the full committee, “I was prepared to consider a lean bill. But this bill goes beyond lean. It’s beyond skinny. It’s downright emaciated. I think there comes a point in budget exercises when you starve the program so much, it just can’t function. I fear that’s where this bill is going.”

The bill as passed by the committee would appropriate $2,172,239,000 to fund oper-ations of the Food and Drug Administration in fiscal 2012. The proposed allocation was $284,762,000, or 12%, below approved funding of $2,457,001,000 in the current fiscal year and was $571,726,000, or 21%, below the president’s request for fiscal 2012 at $2,743,965,000.

The House bill envisions user fees accounting for a greater share in the overall fiscal 2012 F.D.A. budget than either the president’s proposal for the upcoming year or the 2011 budget under the continuing resolution. User fees under the bill passed by the appropriations committee would total $1,511,627,000, or 41%, of the F.D.A. budget for fiscal 2012. Under the president’s budget proposal, user fees would total $1,507,360,000, or 35%, of the total requested F.D.A. budget for 2012. Under the continuing resolution for the current fiscal year, user fees would total $1,223,500,000, marking a 33% share in the total F.D.A. budget.

The committee’s bill would appropriate $972,718,000 for operations of the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Agency in fiscal 2012, down $34,596,000, or 3%, from the $1,007,314,000 approved for fiscal 2011 and down $39,503,000, or 4%, from the president’s request for the agency of $1,012,221,000.

The proposed cuts to the food safety programs would come in the wake of the enactment of the F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization Act in January. That act, passed with bipartisan support last December, provided the F.D.A. new authorities and responsibilities to improve the safety of the nation’s food supply. The act requires a preventive approach to food safety and increased inspections of U.S. and foreign food facilities to ensure that approach is implemented by producers and food manufacturers.

Representative Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, former chairman of the agriculture subcommittee, said, “During my time as chair of this subcommittee, we worked hard to provide the resources F.D.A. needed to better protect Americans from unsafe food, drugs and devices by investing in the F.D.A. But this proposal attempts to undo all of these overdue and much-needed improvements, cutting the agency by more than 20% below what the president has requested. With more than 50 million illnesses, 100,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths each year caused by food-borne illnesses, it is clear that these cuts will put Americans at risk.”

The Alliance for a Stronger F.D.A., a coalition of 180 consumer and medical and food industry organizations, expressed disappointment with the proposed funding for food safety.

“We are deeply concerned by the House subcommittee’s proposed fiscal 2012 appro-priation for F.D.A.,” said Nancy Bradish Myers, president of Catalyst Healthcare Consulting and president of the alliance. “We will continue to make our case to Congress that an adequately funded F.D.A. is essential for patients, consumers and industry.”

The alliance indicated the bill before the House would provide $750 million in funding for the F.D.A.’s food program in fiscal 2012 compared with $837 million in the current year under the continuing resolution and $955 million as the president’s request. The bill would bring funding for the agency’s food program in fiscal 2012 below the fiscal year 2010 level of $784 million.

“F.D.A. is a pre-eminent health agency that assures that our food supply is safe and that drugs, vaccines and medical devices are safe and effective,” said Christopher Waldrop, an alliance board member and director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute. “Multiple times every day, Americans use products for which F.D.A. has oversight responsibilities. There is no backup if the agency isn’t there.”
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