Funding for food safety bill in jeopardy

The massive overhaul of food safety laws approved by Congress this week will take years to implement and could be undercut by Republicans who don't want to fund an expansion of the FDA.

Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who is likely to become chairman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the FDA when Republicans assume control of the House in January, voted against the legislation. He said "No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn't there."

In March, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that user fees collected from food companies and farms would pay for most of the increased inspections and other costs associated with the legislation. But a provision for user fees in the House version was cut from the final language, leaving the government to foot the entire cost.

Under the bill, importers would be required for the first time to verify that products and ingredients from overseas meet U.S. safety standards, calls for stepped-up inspections of farms and food processing operations, requiring the FDA to visit "high risk" facilities - those where contamination is likely to occur - once every five years initially and then once every three. According to the Government Accountability Office, the FDA had been inspecting food facilities about once every 10 years on average, so the bill calls for the hiring of about 2,000 new FDA inspectors over five years.

"A bill that's signed by the president is an unfinished clay pot," said

Carol Tucker-Foreman, a food policy expert at the Consumer Federation of America and a former senior official at the Department of Agriculture. "You have the basic structure there, but what it looks like in the end depends on the attitude of the congressional funders and how vigorously the agency chooses to implement it."