It's a good indication that a situation has become a crisis when businesses ask for an increase in government involvement in just about anything.
Such calls for intervention mostly seem to arise around protectionism, when domestic companies need some help from Uncle Sam to compete against foreign invaders.
In the case of this year's call for increased funding for the Food and Drug Administration, however, it's clear that there's more at risk than U.S. jobs — lives may be at stake if the FDA does not receive additional resources to perform its duties. The spate of recent incidents of product contamination, in addition to posing a public health threat, also has eroded consumer confidence in the nation's food supply.
Recently several business trade groups united with some consumer groups and others to form the Coalition for a Stronger FDA, which has a stated goal of getting more resources for the agency. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is among those groups, and just last week the GMA testified before Congress that “steps must be taken to make our food supply even safer,” including expanding the responsibility of the FDA and “providing the agency with the resources to get the job done.”
Food Marketing Institute, while not a member of the Coalition for a Stronger FDA, also would support beefing up the coffers of the agency, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Unlike the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees specific meat, poultry and egg products, the FDA is not its own federal department and has a smaller budget relative to the vastly larger number of products it is responsible for.
The FDA itself issued a cry for help last month when it published a report, “FDA Science and Mission at Risk,” which basically paints a picture of an organization in complete disarray — burdened with an ever-increasing workload and a steadily decreasing budget, when adjusted for inflation (see Page 1). Plus, the agency has been strained beyond its abilities in handling the food recalls that have seemingly hit in rapid succession over the past year and a half.
The report followed the FDA's issuance of another report, called the “Food Protection Plan — An Integrated Strategy for Protecting the Nation's Food Supply.” This report stresses efforts to prevent foodborne illnesses through a combination of measures, including closer scrutiny of the producers of the most high-risk products, and it also requests the authority to mandate product recalls.
“FDA is a true national asset that needs to be protected,” Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer, FMI, told SN last week. “It's an asset for our own citizens to make sure the products they eat are as safe as they can be, and for companies that export to other countries it is a huge source of confidence in the American food supply.”
Some observers believe the FDA will get an increase in funding for food safety. It will fall to businesses and their trade groups to follow through and make sure those funds are used for the right purposes.