Cost is a key impediment to widespread compliance with the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2010, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg recently said, according to Reuters. Hamburg predicted that the regulations will be released “very soon” but added that the agency would need industry cooperation to fully adopt all provisions of the law.
“Very soon” is more likely to be after the November election, predicted Mike Doyle, Ph.D., director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “That’s a big part of the reason that the Office of Management and Budget is sitting on it. If they’re going to hire the number of inspectors that’s anticipated to be needed to comply with the law, then Congress needs to provide the funding to do it,” he said. “And I don’t know if funding for inspectors is more likely with one party than the other.”
Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Food Safety and Security Systems, predicted it will take longer than that, with the threat of sequestration—the $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts to federal programs imposed by the debt limit law and set to go into effect in the new year—looming. “If that takes effect, the FDA can’t afford to take a 20% cut in the budget,” said Buchanan. “And if there’s a shortfall at the FDA, they will usually take it out of the food side rather than the medical side.”
Doyle predicted that it will take a major outbreak with multiple deaths—like the E. coli outbreak in Europe traced to sprouts last year—to motivate Congress to put the needed funds into implementing FSMA. “And that’s probably going to happen, with the continuing increase we have in imported foods,” he noted. “With the droughts we’ve been having, we’ll need to import more food, not less. I think it might take a major public health event for Congress to give the FDA the resources they need to deal with that.”