The FDA’s hour-and-a-half-long budget hearing before a House subcommittee today began with the chairman enumerating the agency’s many challenges including its glacial pace with respect enacting guidance rules and regulations and filing its budget, and ended with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asking FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg for a breakdown of inspection personnel and an answer to the question: what do you require to ensure the public health of this country?
To view C-SPAN’s recording of the hearing click here. Hamburg appeared along with the FDA’s CFO James Tyler and Norris Cochran, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies to discuss food inspections, food producers, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the President’s $4.7 billion budget request for 2014.
Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. DeLauro mentioned the 18-state Salmonella outbreak associated with imported Mexican cucumbers that has sickened 73 people. DeLauro used the outbreak, announced yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to illustrate current challenges with inspections and imported foods and to ask how it will be possible for the agency to meet its goal of performing 19,000 foreign facility inspections-more than 16 times the current number of annual inspections, just two years from now.
“The CDC is investigating an outbreak of Salmonella in 18 states that’s associated with imported cucumbers. It takes up to three years to fully train a food safety inspector. FDA is not going to meet the target this year or next with only 1,200 planned inspections. In 2016, FDA is supposed to inspect 19,000 foreign facilities. Tell us, if you are to meet FSMA’s requirements for domestic and foreign inspection, will the FDA need more inspectors? If it does, when will they need to be hired? What does this budget do to meet the requirement? I would like you to submit a detailed breakdown of food inspection personnel noting the number of personnel for domestic and and international inspection,” she said.
Dr. Hamburg began her reply by noting the agency exceeded its target for foreign inspections last year, acknowledged that, from here, the numbers “ramp up very quickly” but did not provide any specific information about the number of inspectors or inspections. Instead, she said there are a number of activities besides inspections that can help to improve food safety such as: information-sharing, strengthening regulatory capacity in other countries, training, technical assistance, the foreign supplier verification program and third party audits, which she described as “very, very important to our program.” Hamburg also noted that all manufacturers and growers, foreign and domestic, will be subject to the new produce safety and preventative controls rules of the FSMA. Of course, first they will have to be enacted. Yesterday, Food Poisoning Bulletin reported that the comment period for both of those rules, already a year overdue, has been extended for the second time.
“I would only add commissioner that if, in fact, there is going to be a trans-Pacific partnership agreement, that the influx of imported seafood from Viet Nam, Thialand and Malaysia will be extraordinary,” said DeLauro. “We know now the rate of contamination and the import alerts that have occurred. [ see Tuna Sushi Salmonella Outbreak 2012] That will make your job harder we need to knwow hat is required to ensure the public health of this country, domestically, internationally and how overwhelmed your agency may be if this committee doesn’t do something about the resources that it supplies to you.”