In Wake of Tainted Heparin and Tomatoes, Senator Slams Bush Administration on FDA Funding

Citing deaths from tainted <"">heparin, as well as the recent Salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes, a lawmaker from the President’s own party recently accused the Bush Administration of  “drastically hindering” attempts to get the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) increased funding. In a letter written to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said the FDA’s request on Monday for an additional $275 million wouldn’t give the agency any money until March or April 2009 “at the earliest.”

The FDA has been under scrutiny lately, especially for its oversight of imported food and drugs. Since late last year, tainted heparin sourced from China has been blamed for at least 81 deaths and hundreds of adverse reactions in the U.S. It was eventually learned that the FDA had never inspected the Chinese plant where raw heparin ingredients were made.

Critic have long argued that the FDA does not have the funding or manpower to police the massive amounts of food and drugs imported from overseas.  In May,  the heparin debacle prompted FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach wrote a letter to Sen. Specter recommending an additional $275 million for funding food and drug safety. That letter was not a formal request, but some observers were surprised that von Eschenbach had departed from the Bush Administration’s official stance that no additional funding was needed.

The Administration finally changed it’s tune this week, after an outbreak of Salmonella from tomatoes sickened 167 people in 17 states, and contributed to the death of a cancer patient in Texas.  In a handwritten note on his letter,  Sen. Specter said the “Administration is drastically hindering necessary immediate relief by delaying the funding for eight or nine months.” A spokeswoman for Sen. Specter told The Wall Street Journal that he is referring to the Bush administration in the hand-written portion of the letter.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Specter had already been working to get the agency $275 million in the fiscal 2008 supplemental appropriations bill.  The appropriations bill would require that the FDA receive the funding by September 30. But lawmakers are considering striking the FDA funding from the appropriations bill because of the recent Bush Administration request. Unfortunately, that would keep the FDA from getting additional funding for months.

“The 81 deaths due to contaminated heparin and the one suspected death in the ongoing Salmonella outbreak show that we cannot wait nine months to give FDA the resources needed to protect the public,” Sen. Specter said in the letter.

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