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John Block Reports: Don’t Cut the FDA Budget

OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank fills in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on John Block Reports.

Recently, Congress enacted new laws to bolster food safety and to require calorie labeling for restaurant foods. Both of these laws had broad industry and consumer support. Now, Congress is debating FDA’s budget for 2012 and some in the House are considering a reduction in FDA funding all the way back to 2008 levels. This would be bad policy. While everyone is aware of the need to cut back on federal government spending, FDA’s budget is not the place to do it.

FDA is our nation’s preeminent public health agency. It assures the safety of drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and of course food, including produce, seafood, and dairy. FDA oversees nearly 25 percent of all consumer spending. Unlike many other regulatory agencies such as the EPA and OSHA, a strong FDA is broadly welcomed by the food industry. FDA oversees huge amounts of food imports which offer our consumers variety and choice year round.

FDA’s current budget for food safety and nutrition is 780 million dollars which supports nearly 3,500 employees. While that may sound like a lot of money and personnel, it has not kept pace with developments including globalization of the food supply, scientific advances such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, the new threat of bioterrorism and agro-terrorism, and increasing responsibilities placed on FDA by Congress, including greater inspection of an avalanche of food imports. FDA’s current budget allows it to inspect processing facilities and warehouses only once a year and imports only when they are considered “high risk.” In contrast, USDA inspects meat and poultry plants daily.

FDA’s job is much like national defense. It is essential to our nation’s well-being and often taken for granted until there is a crisis. Not only is FDA critical to food safety, it also performs a vital economic function of maintaining confidence in the U.S. food supply here and abroad. An underfunded FDA jeopardizes America’s role as the world’s breadbasket.

House Republicans are right to closely examine all aspects of the budget and to make cuts where appropriate to shrink our crushing deficit. But now is not the time to cut the FDA. It would be shortsighted for the American public and the growth of our agriculture and food industries that want and need a strong FDA.

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