by Marion Nestle
Jan 4 2011

Obama signs food safety bill today, at last

I listened in on yesterday’s White House conference call announcing that President Obama would sign the Food Safety Modernization Act today.

Speakers said the new bill will give the FDA the tools and authority it needs to help prevent the CDC’s new estimates of the annual burden of foodborne illness: 48 million cases,  180,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths.

But they barely mentioned the elephant in the room: funding.  The estimated cost of the new provisions is $1.4 billion, which will certainly require new appropriations at a time when Republican lawmakers balk at the mere thought.

Fortunately, reporters pressed hard on this issue.  Where, asked Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times, is the money coming from?

The FDA’s not-quite-satisfactory answer: the agency already has resources available from increased funding over the last several years and it “will work closely with industry in partnership.”

As reporters for the Washington Post explain today:

Rep. Jack Kingston, who hopes to become chairman of the agriculture subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said that “our food supply is 99.999 percent safe”….He questioned giving the agency more money.

“I think we’ll look very carefully at the funding before we support $1.4 billion,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Monday, speaking of Republicans who will control the House when Congress comes back into session Wednesday.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post noted that Republicans say we already have the safest food supply in the world and don’t need more money.  What, she asked, can FDA do without additional funds?  And when?

But nobody talked about the timing.  New laws require the FDA to engage in interminable rulemaking procedures: writing rules, opening them for public comment, commenting on the comments, re-writing rules, opening them for public comment, and, eventually, arriving at final rules.

What is FDA supposed to do in the meantime?  It can move more quickly by issuing “guidance” or “interim final rules.”

I’m hoping that the FDA is ready for this and will issue such things soon.

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  • Anthro

    Laws without enforcement aren’t very useful. I sincerely hope that the FDA will act quickly in whatever ways they can during the process that you describe. Have these loons (republicans) never heard about the children who died from e-coli tainted hamburgers? Where is there oft trumpeted “respect for life”? What’s next from these creeps? Hand washing is a waste of time?

  • Greg Stern

    In 2009, the US spent over 17% of its GDP on healthcare, about $2.5 trillion. The FDA needs about $1.4 billion over 5 years to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, about $300 million/year. The CDC estimates that 1 in 6 in US get foodborne illness each year, about 130,000 hospitalizations, and 3000 deaths. Given the insurance claims and governmental costs of medical care and outbreak investigations, as well as the burden of illness and death, how can we afford not to fund the FDA to implement the FSMA? Has anyone seen an analysis of the cost savings from the Act compared to the costs of funding it?

  • Pete

    @ Anthro

    We don’t always agree… but, I swear I have heard the argument against hand washing!

    As for this Bill, I mean law, … I’d really like to believe it will do good, but I have no faith in the FDA. Sorry maybe a little left in the CDC and FTC.

  • Just saw a Washington Post article on FSMA funding with reference to an analysis of the costs from foodborne disesases. ( ). Georgetown Univeristy study “estimated that food-borne illnesses cost the country $152 billion a year in medical costs, lost productivity and other expenses. That figure does not include costs to the food industry incurred when a product is recalled.” If disease is reduced by 1% , it would save five times the cost of the FDA funding request. How do we afford not to fund it?

  • I don’t trust this law or the ones that will be in charge of upholding it. I think there is more going on than face value. It just gives more power to those that already have too much of it.

  • Hooray, now corn syrup will be banned from food!!




  • Will this include regulations regarding Red dye 40? This is a real issue for young children. I did not think much of it till now, until I saw the negative effects in my children.

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