The new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to expand its food safety regulation, shifting from efforts to respond to contamination to those aimed at preventing contamination from arising in the first place. The new law will enable the FDA to issue mandatory food recalls, require more comprehensive inspections of food facilities, and exercise more oversight over food importers.
Tomorrow, FDA officials will hold a public meeting to discuss steps to improve the safety of imported foods, such as importer verification and imported food certification. Under the FSMA, importers can become verified through the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program, a user-funded program that the FDA claims will expedite the import process. The agency will broadcast tomorrow’s meeting live online.
After tomorrow’s meeting, the FDA will hold two days of public hearings on how the agency should rely upon or interface with regulators from other countries to protect the safety of food imported into the United States.
At the same time as the FDA solicits public input, the precise funding the agency will have available to implement FSMA remains subject to Congressional debate. Under President Obama’s FY 2012 budget proposal, FDA funding would increase approximately $350 million from 2010 levels to $2.7 billion, with total program resources increasing approximately $1.1 billion to $4.4 billion.
Congressional Republicans have expressed concerns about the costs of implementing the FSMA. In his opening statement at a March 11, 2011 hearing on the FDA budget, for example, Jack Kingston (R-GA), chair of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing FDA, stated that his subcommittee would have to make some “tough choices” when deciding whether the proposed budget increase can be met.
In her testimony at the same hearing, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg argued that the budget increase, particularly in light of the agency’s expanded role under the FSMA, is an important “investment” to “protect and promote the health of the American public every day.”