The FDA is set to receive substantial funding increases for its food safety program, which will allow for additional research to prevent food contamination, as well as the creation of rapid response teams in the case of an outbreak.
The funding increases, which were announced yesterday by US Senator Herb Kohl, were included in the FY2008 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.
According to the new funding proposals, an additional $48m will be available for food safety initiatives at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as an additional $38m for the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the inspection of meat and poultry.
The Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, of which Kohl is the chairman, has jurisdiction over the FDA and USDA, the two government agencies charged with keeping the nation's food supply safe.
"The FDA faces a daunting task in ensuring that our food supply, which is becoming increasingly global, remains safe, secure and sanitary. If we expect them to monitor the billions of dollars of domestic and imported food that moves rapidly throughout our country, from field to table, we must equip them with the resources necessary to do the job. I'm pleased that with many worthy interests competing for our scarce federal dollars, we made food safety a priority this year," said Kohl.
The focus on improving food safety comes after a year of huge contamination outbreaks associated with spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and peanut butter.
A report published earlier this year by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals a 50 percent increase in E coli infections since 2004, and a monstrous 78 percent increase in Vibrio infections - caused by eating raw shellfish - over the past decade.
The center estimates that 76 million Americans get sick and 5,000 die from foodborne hazards each year in the United States. In light of the abundance of safety slips in the food supply recently, yesterday's announcement for increased food safety funding has been praised by industry and consumer organizations.
According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), "for far too long the FDA has been woefully under-funded by Congress".
"The growing diversification of the world's food supply and today's complex global marketplace demand that Congress appropriate the necessary funds to ensure our nation's food safety system is second to none. To that end, the increase in funding proposed by Senators Kohl and Bennett is an important step in the right direction. We are hopeful the House of Representatives will agree that the FDA needs an appropriate level of resources to effectively accomplish its food safety mission," it said.
The FY2008 Agriculture Appropriations Bill boosts funding for the FDA to $1.755bn, an increase of nearly $186m above the FY2007 level, and nearly $120m more than the President's budget request.
Included in this funding is an increase of $48m for food safety programs at the FDA, designed to boost the agency's capacity to inspect fresh fruits and vegetables by hiring over 90 additional inspectors.
Some $11m of the increase is expected to permit the FDA to create rapid response teams to respond when a food contamination outbreak occurs. These teams will consist of staff trained specifically to rapidly trace back an outbreak to its root cause and stationed in significant produce growing areas in the United States, so that any time an outbreak occurs, the source can be identified as quickly as possible, preventing further distribution of the contaminated product.
Another $6m included in the increase will be dedicated to increased research on food safety issues, including the reduction of microbial contamination of produce and new rapid screening methods to identify pathogens in food samples as quickly as possible, and as early in the food chain as possible.
"The American people are enormously reliant on the FDA's scientific expertise, their judgment and their impartiality. And this subcommittee expects results from this additional funding. We direct the FDA to provide quarterly reports detailing the expenditure of these funds. We want to know how many staff and inspectors have been hired and how many research contracts have been let. I want the FDA to know that our subcommittee will be watching very closely," said Kohl.
The Agriculture Appropriations bill next goes before the Senate for approval.