Bush Administration Finally Caves on FDA Funding

The Bush administration finally asked Congress to give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) an additional $275 million in next year’s budget to help improve the safety of the nation’s food supply; this, two days following the announcement of a huge, raw tomato recall.  The announcement also followed FDA commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach’s long-awaited written request to Congress saying the FDA needed an immediate $275 million to ensure the safety of imported foods, drugs, and medical devices.  The May 5 request was sent to Senator Arlen Specter—Republican-Pennsylvania—and provided a detailed spending plan:  $125MM to finance food safety activities, $100MM for medical product and drug safety activities, $40MM for modernizing the FDA’s science and work force, and $10MM to upgrade agency facilities and laboratories.

The announcement comes at the same time that federal health officials are trying to trace the source of  raw tomatoes responsible for an enormous, multi-state <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/salmonella">Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 167 and hospitalized 23 in 17 states.  Already Wal-Mart, and other chains have stopped sales of some raw tomatoes , while McDonalds, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, and Chipotle Mexican Grill voluntarily withdrew most tomatoes from its menus. 

“I would like to once again strongly urge Congress to act quickly to enhance the safety of food and medical products,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael O. Leavitt.  Leavitt said the additional funding would enable the FDA to open satellite offices in China, India, and Central America; provide increased food and medical products inspections; and enable the hiring of 490 people in addition to hires the FDA has planned.  “We’ll be able to expand the total workforce by 1,500 people, or 15 percent growth,” von Eschenbach said.

Recent food and drug safety problems led a panel of outside advisers to the FDA and found that American lives were in danger because the FDA lacked finances, staff, and scientific expertise.  In the past 17 months, House Democrats have conducted 14 hearings highlighting the FDA’s problems and urging the administration to propose additional money to address such issues.  Up until now, the Bush administration has refused all such requests.  “Tonight’s admission by the FDA that they need $275 million to shore up their broken system is a step in the right direction,” Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat-Michigan, said.

In November, the FDA unveiled a “food protection plan” intended to prevent precisely these types of situation; however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said some plan elements would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars and that “FDA officials have declined to provide specific information on how much additional funding it believes will be necessary.”  The FDA has still not provided details on how it intends to protect the nation’s food supply but does call for new legislative authorization for the FDA to accredit third parties to perform food inspections; Leavitt criticized Congress for not granting the authority in the past.  “For the health of the American people, we need Congress to act on these common-sense proposals,” he said.

Members of Congress have complained for months that the Bush administration refused to provide legislative language any of its proposed new authorizations, as is done routinely when administrations want new laws.

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