USDA Food-Safety Programs Unlikely to Be Cut, Vilsack Says

Food-safety programs may be less vulnerable to cuts than other areas of U.S. Department of Agriculture spending because of the importance placed on the nutrition supply, Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“I’m least concerned about the food-safety part than any other part,” Vilsack said today at a food-policy conference in Washington. Nutrition assistance for poor families may be more vulnerable, even as it helps reduce poverty, he said.

Funding for programs that protect the nation’s food supply are being pressured by congressional spending cuts. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service budget would be reduced by 3.4 percent to $972.7 million in the year beginning Oct. 1 under the appropriations bill the House of Representatives passed in June, while the Senate’s plan would leave funding unchanged.

Calls for stricter government oversight of the food supply have increased during recent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Listeria infections linked to cantaloupes have killed 15 people and sickened at least 84 others. Cargill Inc. in August began the second-biggest U.S. meat recall ever during a salmonella outbreak that killed one person and made more than 70 others ill.

The USDA regulates meat, poultry and egg products while the Food and Drug Administration oversees the other 80 percent of the food supply.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency may be more vulnerable to cuts than USDA programs.

“Historically, it’s been significantly underfunded,” Hamburg told reporters at today’s conference. “There remains a very large gap” between food-safety needs and the agency’s budget, she said.

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