Pulling back from an April 25 report that as many as 2,100 food inspections—or approximately 18% of the total conducted by the agency—would be eliminated this year as a result of the government sequester, FDA officials announced on May 5 that it would reconfigure its budget to avoid reducing inspections.
“Our goal is to absorb the cuts without a risk to public health. We are working to manage the budget reductions through other mechanisms,” says FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess. According to FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael Taylor, travel and training will be two of the targets for budget decreases that otherwise would have hit inspections.
The news came as a relief to food safety experts. “The FDA is already short on the funds they need to accomplish what they need to do to implement FSMA,” says Michael Doyle, PhD, regents professor of microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “If they had to absorb an 18% cutback in inspections, that’s the kind of cut that typically leads to layoffs. While travel and training are important areas, if you have to make cuts on a temporary basis to make ends meet, I guess that’s where you do it.”
Training can’t be cut to the bone, notes Purnendu Vasavada, PhD, professor emeritus of food science at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “The FSMA preventive controls require that inspectors be trained on this new approach to doing inspections,” he says. “They’ll be doing much more of an audit function, with an emphasis on prevention vs. reaction. But all the trainings in the world won’t do any good if you don’t have the inspectors because you’ve had to lay them off. Considering everything else that’s going on with the budget, this is good news.”