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2013 Budget Supports Food Safety, Hunger Relief

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s 2013 budget calls for continued support for several programs that focus on hunger prevention, food safety, and obesity prevention in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the proposed budget, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which provides grants for research in areas like food safety, food security, childhood obesity prevention and climate change, would receive an additional $60 million dollars from 2012 for a total budget of $325 million.

“The budget also increases in-house research in select areas such as crop protection, sustainable agriculture, and food safety by $75 million, and fully funds the Census of Agriculture,” the White House proposal states.

With many Americans unemployed in a still unstable economy, the plan maintains funding for heavily used food programs.

Citing continued need, the proposal allocates $7.5 billion for discretionary nutrition program funding for the Department of Agriculture, including support for 9.1 million participants in the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and for “certain temporary Special Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.”

The administration noted it supports the rollout of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorizes public school food funding and oversees kids’ nutrition programs.

“Feeding America applauds the President’s new budget proposal for providing strong funding for federal nutrition programs, which help millions of struggling Americans put food on the table,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of Feeding America, a hunger relief charity, in a written statement. 

“Although the budget includes cuts to some important low-income programs, it demonstrates that deficit reduction can be accomplished, while ensuring an adequate federal safety-net for our most vulnerable citizen.”

Among other cuts, the plan calls for the Department of Agriculture to eliminate direct payments to farmers, to cut down on subsidies to crop insurance companies, and to “better target conservation funding for high priority areas,” the proposed budget states.

The proposal also calls for the expansion of the Food and Drug Administration’s budget by $654 million from 2012.  Ten million dollars of the total budget is intended for FDA to expand its presence in other countries to “improve food safety and medical product imports to the United States,” the plan states, specifically mentioning China as a country of focus.

One controversial aspect of the plan is the use of a new user fee program to pay for the deployment of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The government has not determined who would pay the inspection fees.

“We’re open to working with industry to shape a proposal that meets their objectives and our objectives and meets the public health needs of food safety,” Patrick McGarey, assistant commissioner for budget at FDA, told the publication Food Safety News. “We’ve not defined the registration fee yet as to which facility and at what amount the fee would be assessed.”

Food Safety News noted that $220 million of the $253 million increase to FDA’s food safety budget would come from these user fees.

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