The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is disappointed with the President’s FY 17 budget request for food safety funding for the Food and Drug Administration, which proposes almost no new funding for food safety activities. Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at CFA said in a statement, “with the Food Safety Modernization Act, Congress recognized the need for FDA to implement a new system – one that prevents foodborne illness rather than reacting to it after the fact. FDA needs adequate funding to take on its new oversight responsibilities under FSMA. The President’s budget will mean more delay in implementing the law, which Americans will pay for in the form of avoidable hospitalizations and deaths caused by foodborne illness.”
FSMA passed through Congress in 2010. The FDA finalized the major rules under the law last year, and will begin enforcing new regulations later this year. Gremillion continued, “FDA will need to give a lot of technical assistance to growers, importers, and other regulated parties as it finally begins to apply new rules under FSMA this year. The agency needs to fund state and local partnerships to do this work. It needs to train and hire new inspectors. This budget falls far short of meeting those needs.”
In the years after FSMA was signed into law, the FDA had tried to get extensions for implementation of regulations and rules. In August of 2013, Federal Judge Phyllis Hamilton finally sided with the Center for Food Safety and told the FDA there could be no more delays.
Some of the rules finalized by the FDA include oversight of imported foods, requiring that anyone who imports food into the United States must verify that the supplier is using prevention-based food safety practices. This rule is important because several foodborne illness outbreaks over the past few years linked to imported foods have sickened hundreds of Americans, such as the Salmonella outbreak linked to raw scraped tuna imported from India that sickened 425 people in 28 states.
Another critical rule is the rule for produce safety, which was finally finalized in November 2015. This rule ensures that water used to irrigate farm fields is clean, and that workers practice good hygiene in the field and while packing produce. This rule may have made a difference in the deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to Jensen Farms cantaloupe that sickened 147 people and may have led to the deaths of 33 people.
Rules covering good manufacturing practices and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food cover compliance, feeds, inspections, and recalls. Traceback of contaminated food is crucial to stopping a foodborne illness outbreak when it occurs. The FDA established product tracing pilot program through the Institute of Food Technologies.
And another rule gives public officials the authority to detain contaminated and adulterated food. Before this rule was signed into law and finalized, FDA could only detain a food product when it had “credible evidence” that a food presented a threat of serious adverse reactions. Now, FDA can detain food if it believes that the food is adulterated or misbranded and keep the products out of the marketplace for 30 days while an investigation is launched.