October 24, 2014

Budget Cuts Affect Food Safety and Public Health

The USDA just released the Food Safety Modernization Act One-Year Progress Report, which details initial steps for implementation, information on mandates which were met, changes in communication and outreach, and reports to Congress.

This is all good news. But the Truth for America’s Health group and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in their report “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism” released late last year, said that state and federal budget cuts are hampering America’s food safety system.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was passed in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama in January 2011, was the first major legislation that addressed the United States food safety system since the 1906 Pure Foods Act was updated in 1938. But funding for this new legislation is in question.

The details of the report that relate to food safety include these statistics:

  • Twenty-four states may lose expert epidemiology support in the next year.
  • All academic training and research centers may be eliminated in 2012.
  • Forty states and Washington, D.C. cut their state public health budgets in 2011.
  • Since 2008, almost 50,000 state and local public health department jobs have been lost due to attrition and layoffs.
  • Sixty percent of state health agencies have cut entire programs since 2008.
  • Federal funds for state and local emergency preparedness declined by 38% from fiscal years 2005 to 2012.

Every year, food poisoning outbreaks cost this country $78 billion, hospitalize 128,000, and kill 3,000 Americans. FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., has said, “Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable … We must, and can, do better by intensifying our efforts to implement measures that are prevention-oriented and science-based.”

One of the most important provisions of the new law is traceability, or the implementation of strict record-keeping that will let the FDA quickly discover where contaminated food came from. If scientists don’t know the source of the food, epidemiological investigations into the contamination are slowed down. The faster the FDA can trace contaminated food back to its source, the faster they can recall and impound food before people get sick.

The new law creates more responsibilities for state and local governments, but with budget cuts looming in most jurisdictions, agencies will be forced to do more with less.

You can download the complete report and read it for yourself. The relevant information about the Food Safety Modernization Act begins on page 77.

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