Thank you for barfing; no money for US food safety changes

The ink hasn’t dried on the new U.S. food safety bill – because it won’t be signed until Jan. 2011 – but many are already saying there’s no money to implement the proposed changes, and Republicans are going to make sure of it.

I still don’t care; it’s all political claptrap.

Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Food and Drug Administration, told the Washington Post today the number of cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. does not justify the $1.4 billion the new law is estimated to cost over the first five years, adding,

"I would not identify it as something that will necessarily be zeroed out, but it is quite possible it will be scaled back if it is significant overreach. We still have a food supply that’s 99.99 percent safe. No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there."

Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham said the same thing a few days ago.

“We simply don’t have the money to pay for it.”

FDA also released a Food Bill For Dummies guide to the proposed changes a couple of days ago.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gives FDA a mandate to pursue a system that is based on science and addresses hazards from farm to table, putting greater emphasis on preventing food-borne illness. The reasoning is simple: The better the system handles producing, processing, transporting, and preparing foods, the safer our food supply will be.

I thought FDA was already supposed to do this.

The legislation, which FDA experts say transforms the food safety system, includes the following major provisions:

* Food facilities must have a written preventive controls plan that spells out the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products. This plan would outline steps that a food facility would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of those problems occurring.

* FDA must establish science-based standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. These standards must consider not only man-made risks to fresh produce safety, but also naturally-occurring hazards—such as those posed by the soil, animals, and water in the growing area.

* FDA is directed to increase the frequency of inspections. High-risk domestic facilities must receive an initial inspection within the next five years and no less than every three years after that. During the next year, FDA must inspect at least 600 foreign food facilities and double the number of those inspections every year for the next five years. With the availability of resources, FDA will build the inspection capacity to meet these important goals.

* FDA is authorized to mandate a recall of unsafe food if the food company fails to do it voluntarily. The law also provides a more flexible standard for administrative detention (the procedure FDA uses to keep suspect food from being moved); allows FDA to suspend the registration of a food facility associated with unsafe food, thereby preventing it from distributing food; and directs the agency to improve its ability to track both domestic and imported foods.

In testimony before Congress in March, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that user fees collected from food companies and farms would pay for most of the increased inspections and other costs associated with the legislation. But a provision for user fees in the House version was cut from the final language, leaving the government to foot the entire cost.

Mark McClellan, who served as FDA commissioner from 2002 to 2004, said that without additional funding, Congress is unfairly raising expectations, adding,

"It’s relatively easy to pass legislation that the FDA needs to do more things. It’s very hard to back that up with resources. And problems may be compounded by legislation like this, which raises expectations that the FDA should be doing this, that or other things."

Producers, processors, retailers, restaurants, mere mortals, take care of food safety. And if you do, tell the world about it, market it, promote microbiologically-safe food. People care about this stuff. Politicians, not so much.