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The New York Times is reporting that despite the passage of the Food safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there may be not enough money in the federal budget for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to accomplish its assigned mission.

FDA would need $580 million from 2011 to 2015 to carry out FSMA's mandate, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but, the Times writes that "Congress has appropriated less than half of that amount, even as the agency is moving to issue crucial rules under the law this year."

The Congressional Budget Office said the F.D.A. would need a total of $580 million from 2011 to 2015 to carry out the changes required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. So far, Congress has appropriated less than half of that amount, even as the agency is moving to issue crucial rules under the law this year.

The success of FSMA is "on the line," says Michael R. Taylor, deputy FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. "We have good plans for moving forward. The problem is we don’t have the money.”

The Times writes that "an estimated 48 million Americans have food-borne illnesses each year, and agency officials say the funding shortfall could undermine Congress’s intent to make the most significant improvements to the food safety system in more than 70 years."

The Times story suggests that there two issues affecting funding. One is that the Obama administration originally wanted the FDA's regulatory efforts to be funded through user fees, but Congress rejected that notion at least in part because of lobbying by the food industry. The other is that Congress seems loathe to appropriate more money to the FDA at a time when it really doesn't want to spend more money on anything.

The Times writes that Taylor says that the FDA "had been able to issue new rules, including those for produce and processed foods, but that funding shortfalls would make it difficult to modernize its inspection processes and retrain about 2,000 inspectors and other staff members for the new requirements. He also said that the agency would have problems providing guidance and technical assistance to the states, which conduct inspections under contract with the F.D.A. In addition, he said, it will be difficult for the agency to properly oversee food imports."
KC's View:
First of all, let me be transparent about the fact that ReposiTrak, which has developed tracking technology invaluable in meeting FSMA mandates, is an ongoing and valued MNB sponsor. So I have a dog in this hunt. (Though, to be clear, my opinions as stated here are mine, not ReposiTrak's.)

It would be just like the US Congress to pass new rules and then not provide the funding to implement them. That way, they can take credit for voting to improve the food safety apparatus, but not actually pick up the check.

Without putting percentages on it, it seems to me to be eminently fair that industry and consumers share the cost of a better food safety system. Industry makes money if the system is safer, and consumers get safer food. Though, of course, industry is going to pass along as many of those costs along to consumers as it can.

The problem is that we live in a "we want something for nothing" society. We want all the things that we've grown to expect government or society to provide, but we don't want to pay for them. I have no problem with forcing government to be more efficient, but it strikes me as silly to pretend that the bill won't eventually come due. It always does.

I've also heard from some within the food safety system that even if funds are not ample, one of the weapons the FDA has is the ability to hold c-level executives responsible if they don't meet the federal mandates. If they can't inspect everything they're supposed to, the FDA will just pick on a company they know is vulnerable. There's the possibility of a high-profile perp-walk.

Then watch everybody rush to fall in line.