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Senate approves $125bn FDA, USDA budget

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 06-Aug-2009

The US Senate has approved a $125bn budget for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which includes extra funding for food safety as well as farming subsidies.

Spending for the FDA would increase by 15 percent under the Appropriations Act, to $2.35bn, partly to help fund additional food safety measures introduced by the Food Safety Enhancement Act which passed through the House last week. In May, the Obama Administration had requested a $3.2bn FDA budget, or a 19 percent increase.

Almost half of the budget for the two agencies, which covers funding for the financial year starting October 1, would provide extra support for government nutrition programs, as use of food stamps has risen to an all-time high. Nearly 34 million people received food stamps in April this year.

The budget, which passed with a vote of 80-17, also covers farm supports and land conservation.

Disagreement on Chinese chicken

However, there is still disparity between the House and Senate versions of the Act.

The House, for instance, wants the ban on cooked chicken from China to continue, while the Senate has outlined conditions which would allow for the ban to be lifted.

China has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization challenging the legality of the ban, and there is widespread support for it to be lifted among food manufacturers and members of the US meat industry, who fear sanctions may be imposed on American products as a result.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) started the administrative process for clearing cooked poultry for import in 2006, after it had been blocked due to avian flu fears in 2004, but Congress denied funding. That provision has been included in every annual Appropriations Act since.

China imported $442m worth of US poultry during 2008, including chicken feet, for which there is no market in the US.

The budget would also halve the funding for a voluntary animal identification program intended to make tracking of livestock easier in the event of a disease outbreak.

The two versions of the budget will go before a panel of House-Senate negotiators before returning to both chambers for another vote.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who heads the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, praised the bill and said in a statement: “This funding enhances our ability to lead the world with the best technology that will keep America’s farmers, food and agriculture sector and rural communities the most productive in the world.”

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