Lawmaker threatens to trim FDA managers’ salaries

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., threatened Wednesday to slash Food and Drug Administration management salaries if agency leaders refuse to implement food safety measures she says are necessary.

DeLauro suggested her subcommittee will "zero out management salaries" in the fiscal 2008 budget if FDA does not take her advice on improving food plant inspections, enforcement and performance standards. She did not specify which managers she will direct her attention to.

In addition, DeLauro said her subcommittee will direct how FDA should spend its money. "There's no longer a blank check," she said.

DeLauro is leaning toward requiring the FDA to implement standards to prevent foodborne illnesses along the lines of regulations in place for meat and poultry. FDA and USDA have certain standards in place meant to prevent contaminants from getting in meat, poultry and seafood, but no such standards exist for produce.

Produce has taken center stage recently as E. coli contaminated spinach last summer, killing at least three people and hospitalizing 104 people in 26 states. The bacteria also contaminated lettuce at Taco Bells at the end of last year that sickened 71 people. FDA recently struggled with a salmonella outbreak in peanut butter and contaminated pet food that has proved fatal.

FDA officials say the agency will need more money to beef up inspections and implement standards.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said President Bush's fiscal 2008 budget contains a $280 million increase for food safety efforts, $10 million of which is directed for the FDA. Smith DeWaal said the funding could be better balanced to help the FDA.

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