Coalition for a Stronger FDA Says Agency Needs More Resources

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson


Press Conference Announcing the Coalition for a Stronger FDA

Washington, D.C., September 25, 2006

I’m very pleased to be here this morning. I hardly need to point out how unusual this coalition is. Consumer, industry, and patients groups are working arm in arm to help reach a goal that none of those groups could achieve individually. The power of such a coalition was suggested earlier this year when the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Food Products Association lobbied together to reverse a proposed $30 million cut in the budget of the FDA’s food division, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, or CFSAN.

While we may not see eye-to-eye on a raft of specific issues, CSPI and the food industry totally agree that it is crucial that the FDA be adequately funded to carry out its wide-ranging and ever-increasing responsibilities to ensure safe and honestly labeled foods and drugs. As it is, the FDA has not had that funding, and public confidence has plummeted.

The food division is particularly vulnerable to budget cuts, because it is not bolstered by user-fee laws. Instead, new challenges, including genetically engineered foods, powerful new germs, novel food ingredients, and ever-increasing numbers of products and shipments of imported foods, have stretched the staff beyond the breaking point.

CFSAN regulates 80 percent of America’s food supply. And although FDA-regulated foods are linked to two-thirds of food poisoning outbreaks, the FDA only gets 38 percent of the total federal budget for food safety.

According to FDA documents, CFSAN is projecting that its budget will have fallen 28 percent behind inflation between 2003 and 2007. Moreover, CFSAN expects that its staffing will have fallen by 14 percent from 2003 to 2007.

After 9/11, Congress provided funds for several hundred new inspectors to help thwart acts of bioterrorism—the intentional contamination of food. However, since then, the number of inspectors has declined to about the level before 9/11. The 2,000 or so inspectors need to monitor over 120,000 domestic food-production facilities. The average facility is inspected only once every five or ten years. That’s not to mention the 160,000 foreign facilities that the FDA does not have the authority to monitor.

This month, the public—and industry—are being buffeted by an epidemic of spinach-related E. coli poisonings. The number of future outbreaks due to vegetables or fruits or dairy products will likely increase if FDA cannot monitor and guide regulated companies.

Today, CFSAN has only four staff members charged with stopping deceptive labeling. FDA officials told us that that is too small a staff to proactively identify deceptive labels. And CFSAN doesn’t even seem to have the resources to be reactive, considering that it has not acted on numerous complaints filed by both CSPI and industry groups.

CSPI has also filed numerous petitions with the agency—to prevent the 50,000 or so annual deaths from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or the roughly 150,000 deaths due to the dangerously high levels of salt in foods, or the deaths caused by contaminated shellfish, and numerous other issues. FDA action could save lives and money, but the agency simply doesn’t have the resources to tackle the wide range of opportunities before it.

We need a strong FDA to promote Americans’ health and pocketbook. While political will is certainly part of the equation, lack of funding hampers all the agency’s activities. CSPI will be working closely with the Coalition for a Stronger FDA to ensure that the Administration and Congress recognize how essential it is to substantially increase the agency’s budget.

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