Remember the Amy’s Kitchen product recall from last month? Certain foods from the natural and organic food line were recalled because of possible listeria contamination from spinach. Maybe you remember the organic garlic product recall that also happened last month due to potential salmonella contamination? Or, perhaps you remember the cumin product recall that occurred a few weeks prior because of possible peanut contamination?
Those three recalls are just a handful of the ones that were issued during that time. I can’t write about every food recall that happens; there are simply too many of them.
In 2011, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act and President Obama signed it into law. The bill gives the Food and Drug Administration the ability to demand that companies issue food recalls. It also put requirements on the FDA to create new food safety regulations, establish stricter standards for imported foods, and increase domestic and foreign food facility inspections. Of course, the added responsibilities that the act requires of the FDA cost money to implement.
The problem is, Congress isn't giving the FDA the money needed to carry out these new responsibilities. According to a New York Times report, the FDA has been given less than half of the $580 million that the Congressional Budget Office projected the FDA would need between 2011 and 2015. The underfunding means the FDA hasn't been able to fully carry out many of the requirements such as inspecting foreign food facilities. By the end of 2014, it should have inspected at least 4,800 of them, yet it only inspected 1,323.
The reasons the NYT gives for the underfunding can make your head spin. When the FDA presented its budget to Congress, saying that it would need $263 million last year for funding, the agency “proposed user fees that would cover the bulk of the cost of carrying out the food safety law.” It wanted $229 million of its budget to come from the food industry, not from taxpayer dollars.
The food industry lobbied Congress, and Congress rejected the user fee funding. Yet, it didn’t make up the rejected difference in funding. For the current fiscal year, Congress has appropriated just $27.5 million for the food safety act. The FDA has asked for $109.5 million for the next year — only half of what the Congressional Budget Office anticipates it will need.
Is your head spinning yet? According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die every year from food-related illnesses. The cost of all this is about $15 billion a year. Yet, somehow, Congress and the FDA can’t figure out how to fund about $229 million a year for the food safety measures that Congress says the FDA must implement.
To me, this is about more than just food safety. The circumstances surrounding the underfunded food safety act paint a picture of a Congress that says one thing and does another while bowing to lobbyists instead of serving the American people. It not only makes your head spin, it’s frustrating, and it makes me less confident in our government’s abilities.
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