In his first remarks to FDA staff in mid-May, newly confirmed FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, promised ongoing support for the agency’s food safety programs. “I’m committed to working with the senior leadership of CFSAN [the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition] to get you the resources you need, to do the job that FSMA requires,” Dr. Gottlieb told an “all-hands meeting” at FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., on May 15, 2016.
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“I want to build on your successes in implementing the new food safety framework,” Dr. Gottlieb promised.
But keeping that promise may prove challenging. The Trump Administration’s Fiscal 2018 budget request, submitted to Congress on May 23, 2017, just one week after Dr. Gottlieb’s pep talk, proposes to slash the agency’s budget by more than $870 million, or nearly one-third, from about $2.76 billion to $1.89 billion. User fees, mainly on pharmaceutical manufacturers, would more than make up the difference, jumping from about $1.90 billion to more than $3.23 billion next year—a 70 percent increase.
“FDA will continue its most critical public health and safety activities, including outbreak response, implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act regulations, and ensuring that foods are safe and properly labeled,” the FDA’s budget request states.
But across FDA, food safety activities would receive $1.3 billion, which is $83 million less than under the current Fiscal 2017 continuing budget resolution. This includes a reduction of $109 million (8 percent) in budget authority, accomplished by not filling staff positions when they become vacant; cutting back on food safety research activities; and curtailing academic partnerships and international capacity-building activities. User fees of $42 million would offset some of these cuts, increasing by $26 million (including $4 million for a new food export certification user fee).
“The President’s proposal is not realistic because Congress has already told the administration that no additional user fee programs would be considered,” commented Ladd Wiley, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA. “In addition, user fees have always been intended to supplement the agency’s appropriation, never to replace it.”
To cut spending, FDA will reduce staff across the food safety program through attrition. “Not backfilling critical vacancies may lead to a loss of some specialized expertise,” the administration concedes. The agency will also make targeted reductions to what the administration calls “lower public health impact areas.”
“This will include reduced funding for imported food safety through decreased international capacity building,” the budget document states. “FDA will reduce funding for cosmetics safety work, which will limit FDA‘s ability to monitor and take action against unsafe cosmetics. FDA will decrease funding for its research program, which supports work related to food safety technology, outbreak response, and FSMA implementation. FDA plans to reduce funding to programs that support state and local health organizations.”
As to be expected, consumer groups decried the proposed FDA cuts, calling them “incredibly disappointing and irresponsible.” But there are also some bright spots in the proposed FDA budget. It would continue to support infrastructure activities at the agency’s 56 labs across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The budget allocates $440 million, $36 million more than current, for infrastructure costs, “including costs to keep up with the science and continue planned activities at both headquarters (including the White Oak Campus) and in the field.”
The overall USDA request for discretionary budget authority to fund programs and operating expenses is about $21 billion, approximately 19 percent or $4.8 billion less than 2017’s level. Food safety activities at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, the agency’s chief scientific, in-house research agency, would take a major hit. The 2018 ARS budget request includes program cuts of $161.5 million, including $141.3 million from ongoing research projects and $20.2 million from “lower-priority and extramural research projects.”