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Will Food Safety Bill have Enough Funds to Make Our Food Safer?

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People around the country consume a variety of different foods on a daily basis. Those people want to know that the food they are eating is safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tasked with ensuring that the nation’s food supply doesn’t create health issues. The problem is that the FDA has been working within the framework of an archaic system. But there is hope, as the House recently gave final approval to a landmark food safety bill. The bill is designed to provide the FDA with the modern tools needed to monitor a complex supply chain that spans the world. President Obama was scheduled to sign the bill into law almost immediately. The question remains however, will funding prove to be an insurmountable obstacle in the implementation of this bill?

The coalition that pushed for the bill is unusually broad, with its members ranging from food safety and consumer groups to major food industry lobbying groups. Recent food recalls, specifically those involving spinach, peanuts and eggs, have highlighted the need for more government oversight and regulation. That government involvement is needed to reduce the number of recalls and renew consumer confidence as food interests have been adversely impacted by the cost of enormous recalls.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Congress must realize that FDA has long needed funding to regulate food safety. She believes that the recent legislation and the money needed to hire and train the people who will carry it out is part of a long process of catch up.

"This legislation is a critical step forward in modernizing our national food safety program, so long as Congress provides the funding to utilize the tools it has provided the agency," she said.

In addition, a similarly broad-based coalition, known as the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, has already succeeded in getting Congress to boost funding for food safety programs at the FDA by nearly $400 million in the past three years.

Yet, despite the many benefits of the proposed legislation, the current dismal economic situation has supporters concerned that it will be a difficult path to get Congress to approve the estimated $1.4 billion needed over the next five years to hire new inspectors and pay for other elements of the legislation. Funding for the bill will have to pass through the House Appropriations Committee. The incoming leader of the Committee, Hal Rogers, voted for a House-authored version of food safety legislation in 2009. Rogers however, has committed himself to "cutting spending, bringing down record deficits and reigning in out of control agencies." Some Republicans have also complained that FDA has failed to use existing authority prudently and warned about regulatory over-reach.

There is no doubt that the current food protect system is outdated and in serious need of an overhaul. There is also no doubt that the United States is in a difficult financial situation. However, food safety is critical to our society. Everyone needs to eat and food safety issues can cripple many aspects of daily life. The food safety bill will not come without cost, but the costs associated with implementation could prove well worth the risk.