(UPDATED COVERAGE, May 7) Feared cuts to food safety inspections in fresh produce facilities and other operations because of mandated budget cuts will be limited for fiscal year 2013, Food and Drug Administration officials said in early May.
FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said in an e-mail that the agency's goal is to absorb the cuts without a risk to public health.
"We are working on mitigating the inspection reductions to the greatest extent practicable to protect the public health, but we are still in the early stages of executing our budget under sequestration," she said in the May 7 e-mail.
In a White House fact sheet released in mid-February and subsequent statements by FDA officials as late as April, the Obama administration said sequester cuts effective March 1 had the potential to result in 2,100 fewer food inspections on domestic and foreign food facilities.
FDA officials told USA Today May 6 that budget cuts to travel and training helped the agency keep scheduled food safety inspections in place.
Industry leaders were pleased with FDA’s commitment to food inspections.
“I think that inspections are important,” said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del. “They not only have their intended effect of protecting the food supply but also have the desired effect of improving consumer confidence,”
Means said it is difficult to say how FDA funding issues will play out the rest of this year.
The budget for this year seems to indicate the food side of FDA’s programs can continue to work and operate under normal conditions, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “We would agree that FDA has dodged a bullet in terms of impact of sequestration,” Guenther said in an e-mail statement. Funding issues will be more critical into 2014 and beyond as the Food Safety Modernization Act is more fully implemented, he said.