Saying foodborne illness will increase and more tainted imported foods/ingredients will reach U.S. consumers without them, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg this week told the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on ag/FDA, her agency must be given authority to impose $220 million in annual user fees for facility registrations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Several members of the subcommittee confronted Hamburg with a letter from 30 national food and agriculture groups – including AFIA – opposing any new user fees, calling them “a food safety tax on consumers,” and urging the subcommittee to “adequately fund FDA’s food safety responsibilities.” The groups offered to work with FDA and the Hill in finding a funding solution. Hamburg faced bipartisan opposition to her user fee request even though many panel members agreed FDA is underfunded.
Rep. Tom Latham (R, IA) told Hamburg user fees have nothing to do with food safety and everything to do with FDA “taxing industry” to stay in business. He said the Obama Administration should operate with “budget honesty” and ask for what it needs rather than offering a user fee alternative that’s twice been rejected by Congress. Issuing similar warnings to Hamburg – including the political “reality check” that even if user fees were approved by the subcommittee they’d never survive Senate or House floor action – were subcommittee chair Rep. Jack Kingston (R, GA), Rep. Sam Farr (D, CA), ranking member, and former subcommittee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D, CT). DeLauro said Congress needs to fund FDA at levels that allow the agency to do its job rather than relying on user fees and increased dependence on regulated industry.
“This is about the tail wagging the dog,” she said. Hamburg said the fees are necessary to provide FDA with a “reliable and dependable source or revenue” to develop and enforce its new programs demanded by FSMA – including new safety standards for produce, comprehensive implementation of preventive controls across all food and feed facilities, new inspection frequencies, a new import inspection system, and creation of FDA overseas offices – and told the subcommittee other industries regulated by FDA, including human and animal drug makers and medical device manufacturers, support user fees, so the food industry should as well. She said FDA would negotiate the fees with industry if the agency is granted authority to levy them.
Kingston said the agency needs to first find duplication of programs with other federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and USDA. Savings from eliminating duplicative programs can be redirected to food safety, Kingston said.