Money where your mouth is: A shortage of funds for US food safety

The N.Y. Times writes in an editorial that a farsighted food safety law enacted in 2011 has faced obstacles to meaningful enforcement ever since, including delays in issuing necessary rules and a shortage of money.

restaurant.inspectionNow, in what may become the latest shameful chapter, Congress seems unwilling to provide enough money to effectively carry out regulations that are about to be issued. The losers, of course, will continue to be consumers, who live with the hazards of an unsafe food supply.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was designed to prevent deadly outbreaks, not just react to them. It put the burden on food producers to make sure that their products are safe and to develop plans to prevent contamination. It also gave the F.D.A. new powers to set standards for harvesting fresh produce, recall tainted foods and monitor produce imported from abroad.

The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the F.D.A. would need a total of $580 million from 2011-15 to carry out its reforms. That is a pittance for policing an enormous sector of the nation’s economy and barely noticeable in the vast federal budget. Yet Congress has appropriated less than half that amount — roughly $162 million — over the five-year period.

The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2016, which starts in October, asks for an appropriation of $109.5 million, an increase from $27.5 million in the current year. In addition, it calls for an increase of almost $192 million in user fees from the industry that it is virtually certain not to get. The F.D.A. in its last five budget requests proposed user fees that would cover the bulk of the costs, but Congress rejected those proposals after industry lobbying.

That’s all nice, but the industry that profits from selling food should be taking control and far exceeding government standards, as Costco and Walmart have done.