Senate coughs up $50 million for FDA food safety efforts

Senate appropriators cut the budget for the Agriculture Department on Wednesday, leaving meat inspection funding flat, but added $50 million for the Food and Drug Administration to staff up with a few food-safety inspectors.

The Senate Appropriations bill provides $19.78 billion for USDA for fiscal 2012, a decrease of $138 million from this year. It gives FDA $2.497 billion, up from $2.447 billion in fiscal 2011.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which monitors the nation's meat supply, would receive $1.007 billion, the same amount as last year.

The proposal is aimed at helping FDA implement the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act, which would give FDA unprecedented authority over both domestic and foreign food products.

The House version of the bill, approved 217-203 in June, would cut FDA's budget by $285 million, or 11 percent. This includes an $87 million cut to food safety, and a $35 million cut to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is responsible for meat, poultry, and processed-egg inspection.

According to food-safety advocates, the budget cuts approved by the House would hinder FDA's ability to meet many requirements of the food-safety act. Congress passed the legislation after a series of high-profile food-poisoning incidents, including a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2009 that killed nine people and sickened thousands.

Funding food-safety reform is crucial, said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., because under current regulations, FDA does not have the resources to do much good.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food poisoning sickens 48 million people each year in the U.S., puts 128,000 into the hospital, and kills 3,000.

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