Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has urged Congress to approve the $1.4bn of funding estimated to be necessary to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Obama signed into law on January 4.
Dingell, Dean of the House of Representatives and author of the bill, sent a letter to the House Committee on the Budget and the House Committee on Appropriations late last week, in which he said he had “grave concerns about suggested efforts to withhold funding” for the law. The GOP budget proposal for the remainder of fiscal 2011 includes significant spending cuts to food regulatory agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
“Like you, I believe that we must weigh the economic impact of new regulations,” Dingell wrote. “Such examination must also take into account the impact new regulations have on the public health and well-being of the American people. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was supported by a wide variety of consumer and industry stakeholders, and passed the House and Senate by strong, bipartisan margins. Furthermore, it is demonstrably clear that preventing the outbreaks of food-borne illness is far less costly to our government, business, and society than allowing them to occur.”
Dingell points out that according to CDC statistics, 48m Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year, and about 3,000 die. He suggests that even if it were only possible to prevent ten percent of outbreaks, this would result in an annual cost saving of about $15.2bn, based on former FDA economist Robert Scharff’s estimate that foodborne illness costs the US economy about $152bn a year.
“While I understand the need for fiscal responsibility in this time of unprecedented budget deficits, it is imperative that we not compromise public safety in the name of being “penny-wise but pound foolish”,” Dingell wrote.
The introduction of the Food Safety Modernization Act was triggered by a spate of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States over the past few years, including a salmonella outbreak linked to peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America, which led to more than 700 reported illnesses, nine deaths, and one of the largest food product recalls in the nation’s history.
The new law seeks to focus on the prevention of foodborne illness and widespread food recalls by giving the FDA the authority to better trace and manage food safety concerns throughout the supply chain.