The Food and Drug Administration’s leader suggested in a recent speech the food industry should pay more to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, but so far that trial balloon hasn’t lifted off.

Speaking in early October at a Washington D.C. think tank, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg promised the agency would release food safety regulations “very soon” but said implementation has been lagging because of insufficient funding from Congress.

FDA wants industry help to fund food safety lawHamburg’s remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies were summarized in a report by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA. Hamburg said FDA’s resources and responsibilities are badly mismatched and said private industry should help finance the law’s provisions, according to story about the speech from Reuters.

Hamburg said there has been a transformation in the agency’s responsibilities from mostly U.S.-centered to a global role. Hamburg pointed out that nearly two-thirds of fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. come from another country, according to the alliance summary of her remarks.

Industry leaders say the lack of specifics makes it difficult to respond about possible costs to fruit and vegetable grower-shippers.

“We would want to have a better understanding of exactly what they are proposing in regard to fees,” said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of federal government affairs in the Washington, D.C., office of Western Growers. He said any proposal would have to have clear benefit for producers.

David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said Congress bears the responsibility for giving the FDA funding it needs. He said the Food Safety Modernization Act authorized fees for reinspections and fines for refusing to do a mandatory recall, and the FDA has already implemented both of those fees.

“If Congress wants FDA to undergo a significant change in how they regulate food safety, then Congress should also appropriate the funds to do that,” Gombas said. “That shouldn’t be coming out of industry.”

Erik Olson, food program director for the Pew Charitable Trusts, told Reuters that the agency’s $866 million food safety budget may need hundreds of millions more to pay for inspectors and scientists needed to meet the law’s new mandates.

Gombas said FDA activities for the general good of public health should come from the FDA general budget, not industry fees.

The new food safety law will add oversight responsibilities of about 100,000 farms to the FDA, Gombas said.

“You are going to need some way of enforcing a regulation that covers those 100,000 (farms),” he said.

Congress should address the discrepancy between how the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service is funded compared with the FDA, Gombas said. Among other foods, the FSIS polices meat products; the FDA handles food safety issues for fruits and vegetables.

“FDA should be getting a much larger share of the pie,” he said. “The reality is that if Congress wants the FDA to regulate all these different foods, they need to give them the resources to do it.”