Jay Sjerven

WASHINGTON —The Trump administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 includes a 7% reduction in budget authority for the foods program of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The proposed reduction would scale back certain initiatives, but implementation of the hallmark F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was expected to continue, although perhaps at a slower pace than if the food programs were to be fully funded at current levels.

The Trump administration’s budget proposed that Congress appropriate $910,428,000 for the F.D.A.’s foods program in F.Y. 2018, which equated to a $70,958,000, or 7%, reduction from a budget authority of $981,386,089 approved for F.Y. 2017 and compared with $998,230,000 in F.Y. 2016. The budget request included proposed funding for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (C.F.S.A.N.) and for the Office of Regulatory Affairs (O.R.A.), which operates the food program’s field activities.

The F.D.A. budget requested an appropriation of $277,643,000 for the C.F.S.A.N., which would be down $21,848,000 from the $299,491,000 approved for F.Y. 2017 and compared with $300,059,000 in F.Y. 2016. The F.D.A. budget requested $632,785,000 in appropriations for the O.R.A. in F.Y. 2018, down $49,110,000 from $681,895,000 as approved by Congress for F.Y. 2017 and compared with $698,171,000 in F.Y. 2016.

Federal budget
The Trump administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 includes a 7% reduction in budget authority for the foods program of the F.D.A.

In the executive summary of its budget request, the F.D.A. said, “In F.Y. 2018, F.D.A. will preserve its most critical public health and safety activities, including outbreak response, implementation of FSMA regulations, and ensuring that foods are safe and properly labeled. To reduce expenditures, F.D.A. will reduce staff across the food safety program through attrition. Not backfilling critical vacancies may lead to a loss of some specialized expertise.

“F.D.A. will also make targeted reductions to lower public health impact areas. This will include reduced funding for imported food safety through decreased international capacity building. F.D.A. will decrease funding for its research program, which supports work related to food safety technology, outbreak response, and FSMA implementation. F.D.A. plans to reduce funding to programs that support state and local health organizations.”

Specifically, the budget request said, “C.F.S.A.N. will absorb funding reductions by reducing full-time employees by attrition and reducing operating expenses. F.D.A. will balance reducing the federal footprint with providing specialized staff expertise to inform the agency’s response to the large volume of incoming work from a diverse array of stakeholders. F.D.A.’s goal is to minimize the impact of these reductions on F.D.A.’s core mission activities.”

The F.D.A. budget request indicated C.F.S.A.N. will continue to support partnerships with academic institutions, state and local health organizations, and other groups that play a role in outreach, research, and training needed to support F.D.A.’s food safety mission, but at reduced levels. Support for some partnerships, such as the Centers for Excellence, may be eliminated.

The president’s budget establishes a framework for congressional deliberations, but as legislators have been quick to point out, it is up to Congress to draft and approve a budget for F.Y. 2018.

While subcommittees of the House and Senate appropriations committees may have begun discussing funding levels for agencies and programs under their purviews, the congressional budget committees must determine the overall size of the F.Y. 2018 federal budget. Once there is agreement on the overall budget, the full appropriations committees will allocate the total amount.

Perhaps most important to the food industry is what effects reductions to the F.D.A. food program may have on implementation of FSMA.

David Acheson, president and chief executive officer of the Acheson Group, said in a recent post, “Some have suggested that the cuts being discussed at Health and Human Services will result in FSMA being ‘neutralized’ and not effective. I disagree. FSMA is based on fundamental preventive control principles. The approach for FSMA is to look broadly at the risk portfolio and control those risks. Any good food company should be taking that approach anyway. Why? Not to keep F.D.A. off their backs but to protect their brands.

“Most likely, we will see no increase in the number of inspections, and we may see FSMA enforcement being a bit slower than some hoped for. But, the FSMA train has left the station. Food companies are moving toward ‘risk-based preventive controls’ as a matter of good business practice, so I really don’t see anything in the current budget announcements that are going to have a major negative impact on food safety overall.”