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We Were Back on Capitol Hill Advocating for You

May 15, 2024

We were again advocating for environmental health on Capitol Hill, this time to promote funding for the Human Foods Program within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Government Affairs Director Doug Farquhar met with 17 congressional offices on May 7 and 8, 2024, to discuss the basics of food safety regulation in our country. He emphasized that a large proportion of food safety work is done by state and local governments, with FDA providing the critical national overview to this three-legged regulatory stool. As FDA develops its Human Foods Program, it will be state and local food safety agencies that provide data on foodborne outbreaks that will drive FDA policies. This information from state and local agencies is essential for FDA to identify, mitigate, and prevent foodborne outbreaks. FDA, in turn, must support state and local food safety agencies to receive this data.

This message was delivered to members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and FDA. Members of both parties (11 Democrats and 6 Republicans) support food safety and the efforts that FDA is engaging in to develop its Human Foods Program. Two offices (Representatives Wittman and Costa) are not on the subcommittee.

NEHA met with the following offices:

  • Representative Pete Aguilar (CA-D)
  • Representative Mark Amodei (NV-R)
  • Representative Tony Cárdenas (CA-D)
  • Representative Juan Ciscomani (AZ-R)
  • Representative Jim Costa (CA-D)
  • Representative Angie Craig (MN-D)
  • Representative Dan Crenshaw (TX-R)
  • Representative Debbie Dingell (MI-D)
  • Representative Michael Guest (MS-R)
  • Representative John Joyce (PA-R)
  • Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-D)
  • Representative Robin Kelly (IL-D)
  • Representative Dan Newhouse (WA-R)
  • Representative Chellie Pingree (ME-D)
  • Representative John Rutherford (FL-R)
  • Representative Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ-D)
  • Representative Robert Wittman (VA-R)

Among federal agencies, the appropriations for FDA is unique. For most agencies, Congress dictates the amount of funding for each program, providing very little agency discretion. For FDA, however, Congress defines its appropriation broadly, with funding for medical devices through appropriations and user fees, funding for tobacco through user fees, and funding for foods through appropriations and user fees.

This appropriations gives FDA >$1.4 billion to spend on human foods, with Congress granting fairly broad authority on how the agency can spend these funds. Congress does have limits, but nowhere as stringent as other environmental health programs, such as within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).

As such, Congress has limited ability to direct how FDA responds to human foods, nor how FDA supports state and local food safety efforts.

Due to this situation, we have recommended to Congress that they provide a line item in the FDA Human Foods Program that directs specified funding for state and local programs. This request could be anywhere from $117 million to $170 million annually for state and local food safety programs and is designed to ensure that these agencies receive the necessary funds to operate and implement the mission of the Human Foods Program.

Congress does recommend—since it cannot dictate through a line-item appropriation—that FDA spend $83 million for state and local food safety efforts. FDA often provides close to $120 million for these efforts, but is not required to by Congress. This situation places both FDA and congressional appropriators in an awkward position, not to mention how state and local agency food safety budgets are affected.

Our organization, along with 21 of our food safety partners, is calling on Congress to support a food safety line item within the FDA budget to fund state and local food safety agencies. These agencies work in collaboration with FDA to carry out its mission to advance food safety and limit foodborne disease. These agencies conduct food processing, produce, and retail inspections. They assist in identifying potential illness outbreaks, investigating illnesses, and effectuating product removals through recalls. FDA often requests the use of state authority to expedite product recalls and removals, closures, embargoes, and similar actions.

In total, states conduct:

  • 50% of human food processing inspections reported as completed by FDA
  • 70% of animal food processing inspections reported as completed by FDA
  • >90% of produce safety inspections under the FDA produce safety program
  • 100% of retail food inspections. FDA cannot complete its required mission without state and local food safety agencies

It is this reality that has led us back to Capitol Hill to not only advocate for the profession but also improve the food safety system in our country. A unified mission between FDA and the state and local food safety agencies will allow all parties—state agencies, local agencies, and the federal government—to meet the goal of advancing food safety and limit the number of foodborne outbreaks.

We will continue to advocate for you and our profession.

For more information, contact Government Affairs Director Doug Farquhar.