In January, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, the first major advance in the food-safety authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the Roosevelt Administration. Then, in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released lower estimates of how many people wind up in the hospital with a food-borne illness. But, according to a perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine, none of this means our food is actually much safer. According to Michael Osterholm, PhD, congressional parsimony may hamper the effectiveness of the new law:
Although all these new forms of authority will substantially enhance the FDA's ability to prevent foodborne disease and respond more effectively when an outbreak occurs, the new law has a major shortcoming: dollars. There was no appropriation approved by the Congress for the act or authorization in the bill for the FDA to assess fees on the companies that it inspects. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that implementing this legislation would require $1.4 billion between 2011 and 2015.5 Though the bill authorizes the FDA to collect fees when a facility requires reinspection and a recall fee for mandatory recalls, these fees are expected to provide minimal resources. In short, the actual effect of this important law will at best be extremely limited if Congress and the administration don't appropriate and sign additional legislation providing the necessary funds to carry out its mandates. Recent reports in the media calling this act “historic legislation” must be tempered by the reality that without the necessary resources, requiring the FDA to carry out the law's required activities will be like trying to get blood out of a rock. And in the end, food safety in the United States cannot be expected to improve in more than an incremental manner.