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President Obama’s ambitious FDA budget request for fiscal year 2016 features an increase in budget authority of more than $109 million for activities implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The agency received an additional $27.5 million for FSMA implementation in FY2015, despite the very difficult budget climate in Washington, D.C., so there is at least a precedent for a significant increase even while lawmakers hunt for ways to trim budgets elsewhere.

FDA says the additional budget authority will allow the agency to “implement fundamental requirements for domestic food and feed safety; acquire the technical staffing needed to support the law, including the training of new inspectors; provide the appropriate guidance to industry about the changes the law will bring; strengthen the role of the states in helping to ensure the safety of the country’s food supply; and build and implement a new import safety system.”

Michael Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, in a February 3 FDA Voice blog, said the agency is “at a critical juncture” as Congress considers the FSMA funding. He explains that a lot of work has to be done now to ensure that the FSMA rules are implemented in late 2016 and 2017. For example, the agency plans to deploy inspectors specialized in specific food commodities. This will involve retraining of more than 2,000 FDA inspectors, compliance officers and other staff involved in food safety activities, he said.

Funds are needed now for the agency to recruit additional experts to help develop guidance and to work with industry, academia, and state extension services to ensure that their concerns are heard, Taylor noted.

The agency plans to provide funding to state agencies and public-private-academic collaborative entities, such as the Produce Safety Alliance and the Preventive Controls Alliance. It has also joined with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture in providing grants to support food safety training for small, sustainable and organic farm owners and food processors, Taylor said.

The agency plans to provide funds to states for inspector training and to boost information sharing capacity. In addition, it needs to build state partnerships and capacity to provide education and technical assistance to growers, for the produce safety rule.

For imports, the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) presents “an enormous challenge for both FDA and food importers,” Taylor said. The program will require an increase in staff and the training of more than 400 investigative and compliance staff within the agency. It will also require extensive training and technical assistance for importers, he said.

“The bottom line is that without investment now, and sustained funding afterwards, there is the risk that the implementation of FSMA will be uneven or even delayed,” Taylor said.

This seems to me to be a fair assessment.

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