The Food and Drug Administration’s food safety efforts will receive 30% more funding for fiscal year 2011 under a just-released White House budget proposal, but industry leaders believe the bigger budget shouldn’t burden fresh produce marketers with new user fees.

White House budget's proposed user fees concern industry

The proposed budget is for the fiscal that starts Oct. 1 of this year and concludes at the end of Sep-tember 2011. Hammering out the budget likely will take several months and perhaps even extend into the next fiscal year, sources said.

“We’re pleased to see that FDA will see some additional money,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, She said the FDA has indicated  a pilot track and trace program and expanded labora-tory capacity are among the agency’s priorities.

In the budget summary , the agency said the food safety budget tallies $1.4 billion, $327 million more than fiscal 2010. Part of the funding increase will come from new user fees, the FDA said.
For the entire $4.03 billion FDA fiscal year funding request — including all programs — the FDA included a request for $146 million in new budget authority and a $601 million increase in industry user fees.

Red flag on user fees

The administration’s proposal to add new user fees to help fund food safety efforts met a cold reception from the industry.

“The produce industry strongly opposes a food tax — user fees — related to food facilities or food importers, which have been considered in food safety legislation over the past two years,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“Food safety is a public health issue affecting our entire society and accordingly the cost of any increased federal regulatory oversight should be borne by U.S. general revenues,” Guenther said.

“This is a long-held principle shared by many stakeholders in this debate, and one that should not be compromised for short-term budget expediency,” he said.

While the budget increase for FDA’s food safety efforts is expected, Western Growers also is concerned with facility user fees, said Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs for West-ern Growers’ Washington, D.C., office. 

The current Senate food safety bill doesn’t have any food safety fees while the House bill does, said Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C., representative of the Produce Marketing Association in Washington, D.C.

“The administration’s budget assumes there will be some sort of increased user fees, but (they) can’t do that without authorization from Congress,” he said. “It all comes back to what Congress decides.”

The budget summary said the increased funds will improve the ability of the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement prevention steps, boost enforcement and improve response and recovery efforts.

The CDC will improve the speed and accuracy of foodborne disease outbreak detection, while FDA will increase inspections to improve the security of the supply chain and possess more tools to make fact-based decisions on how to use resources to prevent food safety outbreaks, the budget summary said.

Food safety working group

In a summary of the proposed budget, the FDA said the plan will help execute the vision of Obama’s Food Safety Working Group, established in March.

The budget document said the FDA will work with states to set standards for inspection programs at that level and build the infrastructure needed to integrate federal and state food safety activities.

“FDA will also invest in the modernized laboratory capacity and test methods needed to more rap-idly detect harmful food contaminants, which are essential for preventing, containing, and recovering from illness outbreaks,” the document said.

The budget will allow for an additional 159 foreign inspections and 1,978 domestic inspections as new staff is fully trained and deployed, the agency said.