The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not reduce food inspections because of the automatic sequestration budget cuts, despite warning last week it could be forced to eliminate thousands of inspections by September 30.
"Our goal is to absorb the cuts without a risk to public health. We are working to manage the budget reductions through other mechanisms," FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said.
Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has stated that FDA originally had feared it could be forced to cut as many as 2,100 inspections because of the mandated budget reductions. The numbers shifted so drastically because FDA reconfigured its money to avoid cutting inspections, focusing instead on decreasing travel and training, said Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. Just figuring out where the agency stood took time, he said. "These sound like simple questions, but in the budget world of the federal government they're not." FDA was also helped by an infusion of $40 million to fund the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Exactly how the budget will play out is still being worked out. Overall, FDA came out better in 2013 than 2012 in terms of FSMA but "eroded a little bit" when it comes to food safety, Taylor said. "It's not like there's no effect, but it's not like we're going to turn off one big chunk of program and stop doing things."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which oversees all meat and poultry slaughterhouses and packing plants, dodged the sequester bullet entirely. USDA was supposed to get hit with $52.8 million in cuts. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, undersecretary for food safety, said on March 13 that the cuts would require shutting down meatpacking and slaughter plants one day a week until the end of September, reducing meat production by 20%. Faced with that prospect, Congress voted on March 22 to give the USDA $55 million to keep inspectors on the job.