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FDA proposes increased budget to promote food safety

The president's 2009 budget, released Monday, includes a $2.4 billion request from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a 5.7 percent increase over the FDA's budget for 2008.

The budget seeks a $42.2 million increase for the agency's food protection plan, which would allow the FDA to devote more people and resources to inspections in the United States and abroad, officials said. Specifically, the FDA will be working in 2008 and 2009 to establish a presence — and an office — in China.

"We're going to be enhancing our ability to detect and quickly identify risk signals by deploying new rapid screening tools and methods to identify pathogens and other contaminants quickly," said Robert Miller, a deputy director for budget formulation and presentation. "We will be specifically increasing food sampling and testing."

While agency officials said this budget plan would move the FDA closer to safeguarding the American food supply, the announcement comes on the heels of a scathing report from a group of scientific advisers to the FDA. The panel of outside experts in November said the agency needed to beef up inspections and infrastructure or risk failing to carry out its mandate. At a congressional hearing last week, former FDA official Peter Barton Hutt told lawmakers the agency needed to double its $2 billion budget in the next two years.

Asked in a Monday conference call if this budget would be enough to address the deficiencies pointed out by the science panel, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Operations and COO John Dyer acknowledged an "overall tight budget atmosphere" and said the increase "moves us in the right direction."

Miller said the 2009 budget would allow the FDA to expand its science in food protection, so that threats to the food supply can be understood from a science-based approach. The budget also includes funds to enhance partnerships with states for rapid response. "We plan to improve our traceback capability and improve our risk communications," he said.

The budget requests cost-of-living pay increases for personnel, information technology investments, and resources for working with regulated corporations on prevention.

Toward increasing inspections the budget would, for example, allow an additional 20,000 import food field exams. The U.S. import volume for FDA-regulated food is now 9.5 million entries annually.

In December, consumer and trade groups joined Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Edward Kennedy in asking the president to propose a significant increase for food safety in his 2009 budget proposal. Durbin wanted the administration to commit to doubling FDA funding over the next five years. "We simply cannot leave American families vulnerable when it comes to food safety," he said.

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