One of the policy items you hear the Administration tout as part of defending their record is the food safety bill. Food policy experts considered it flawed, but generally a step in the right direction, and the first overhaul of the nation’s food safety system in decades. There’s every reason for the White House to use that as part of their list of accomplishments.
There’s only one thing: as a result of the legislation, the FDA has more responsibility but does not have more money:
“It’s an enormous undertaking,” said Mike Taylor, the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for foods, whose job it is to turn the far-reaching law into a coherent set of rules that farmers, food processors and importers can follow and regulators can enforce.
The agency is taking on the expanded mission at a time when Washington budget-slashing means that regulators have little hope of getting additional money and may instead have their budgets cut by Congress.
“We have to have the resources to implement this law,” Mr. Taylor said.
“The stark choice is we either find the resources or we forgo implementing this law the way Congress intended. You can’t build something brand-new without the resources to do it.”
If you think those who aren’t enamored of the Obama record are being unfair, or that they’re overlooking this evidence of progress and focusing too much on budgets or taxes, it has to be made clear that it all comes back to budgets and taxes. The food safety bill doesn’t exist in a world where the FDA has its budget cut to the bone. You might as well leave that out of the list of accomplishments if we’re going to go full austerity.
I mean, one of the major pieces of the food safety legislation is increased inspections. Who is supposed to do that? Drones? Maybe we can make food safety a national security priority and fund it out of the Defense Department, but until then, it’s just a fact of life that hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding, according to the Congressional Budget Office, will be needed to execute the law. If the FDA survives with a minor cut it will be a miracle. And remember, the debt limit deal put caps on all domestic discretionary spending for the next ten years. There are ways to surmount those caps, and there can be shifts in between programs, but it hardly bodes well for an agency like FDA that needs a major injection of funding to carry out a statutory mandate.