The E. coli bacteria outbreak that has left at least 18 people dead and 1,600 sickened in Europe is scary, and getting scarier by the moment. And it’s an indicator of why Americans should be concerned about a proposal to cut $285 million from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s budget in the next fiscal year.
On Jan. 4, President Barack Obama signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into law, establishing minimum inspection guidelines, requiring that processors have food safety plans, and giving the FDA mandatory recall authority. It’s the first major update to the food safety authority of the FDA in more than 70 years and shifts the agency’s regulatory approach from reaction to prevention.
Recently, Republicans on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture voted to reduce the FDA’s fiscal 2012 budget by 11.5 percent from the previous year. Such cuts could have a devastating effect on food-safety reform in the U.S. — reform that was backed last year by a broad coalition of public health and consumer and food safety groups.
Under the new law, the FDA has developed standards for fresh produce and is supposed to enforce them. This component takes on added urgency with the European crisis, suspected to have begun with bacteria in fresh produce. And the new law is supposed to set up safeguards on food that is imported into the United States — and the European outbreak is believed to have come from imported food. Without the funding, these measures are unlikely to take place.
If lawmakers still don’t get it, they should look at a recently released Pew poll showing that among likely voters in the U.S., 66 percent support additional funding for the FDA to carry out its new responsibilities.
The Tennessean, Nashville (June 8)