Associated Links

"Why Your Food Isn't Safe," Madeline Drexler, October 2011, Good Housekeeping 

Food safety: An overview

Common foodborne germs

People who've fallen victim
  to foodborne illness

Food safety: A historical look

Who monitors our food?

Non-O157 E. coli: 
  The growing threat 

The food safety
is starved<

How to fix the
  food safety system

Resources for
  learning more 

The image at top combines two pictures: 
Coins by MoneyBlogNewz
Sandwich by Jack Kennard

The food safety budget

Foodborne Illness:
  The food safety
  budget is starved

This spring, the Republican-led House of Representatives chopped $87 million from the Fiscal Year 2012 food safety budget of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The House also slashed $35 million from food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA ). While the final FY’12 budget will be debated in Congress this fall, the amounts are unlikely to change substantially.  

In food safety programs, these relatively small sums of money have an outsized impact. “We have very little flexibility in our budget,” says the USDA’s Elisabeth Hagen. “More than 80 percent of what we are appropriated pays salaries and benefits of our employees. There’s not a lot of wiggle room there, when you’re looking at significant levels of cuts.” 

For the FDA–which regulates at least 80 percent of our food supply–the cost-cutting comes at a crucial time because of the mandates of the new Food Safety Modernization Act. The new law established a science-based, prevention-oriented approach to food safety at FDA, and includes broader regulation of food facilities, a mandate to ensure that food coming into the U.S. is produced under the same standards as for domestic food, and the authority to order recalls when food is contaminated. Deep budget cuts would not only hamper the FDA from carrying out the new law,  but could possibly reduce staffing in the agency’s main workforce: scientists, inspectors, and lab workers. 

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that carrying out the progressive new law would require an extra $1.4 billion from 2011 to 2015. Taylor says that to do its job, the FDA needs a 50 percent hike in funding, phased in over the next few years, beyond its current budget of just under $800 million.  

Unless otherwise noted, all content about foodborne illness and food safety policy is written by Madeline Drexler, Schuster Institute senior fellow.

Copyright © 2011 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.

Last page update: September 15, 2011