WASHINGTON – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shed light on the agency’s priorities for federal food safety activities and programs. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Frank Yiannis, deputy commissioner, said in a joint statement that the request for more funding in the fiscal 2020 budget, “…will allow the agency to add new staff and resources to enhance signal detection, response to outbreaks and post-response evaluations.”

For example, the FDA is proposing more money to support whole genome sequencing (WGS), which the agency said has been a game-changer for the way food safety investigators address pathogen contamination in foods.

“This technology has made it easier to determine the source of contaminated food associated with human illness, and to better identify foodborne outbreaks that previously would have gone undetected,” FDA said. “WGS continues to be put into widespread use as the technology itself becomes more accessible, affordable, and much less bulky. We need to expand our use of these modern tools.”

Thanks to WGS technology, the workload at FDA has increased as WGS enables investigators to detect more outbreaks and launch investigations. In fact, the number of potential human food safety outbreaks evaluated by the agency nearly doubled in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 compared with fiscal years 2015 and 2016, according to FDA. “The increase requested in the 2020 Budget will allow the agency to add new staff and resources to enhance signal detection, response to outbreaks and post-response evaluations,” FDA explained.

Another area in need of more funding is in the review of new food products and ingredients. FDA said the agency’s goal is to improve the speed with which these reviews are completed, “…eliminate unnecessary burdens to industry related to the premarket safety reviews of these food ingredients.”

Earlier in March, FDA requested $6.1 billion as part of President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget. The proposed budget includes a requested increase of more than $643 million compared to the 2019 Annualized Continuing Resolution (CR) — or $419 million compared to the fiscal 2019 enacted budget.

The budget includes:

  • an increase of more than $16 million to improve signal detection of foodborne illness and strengthen the FDA’s response to human and animal food contamination;
  • an increase of nearly $16 million to support state cooperative agreements to increase preventive controls inspections and human food produce safety inspections; and
  • $36 million above fiscal 2019 for additional capacity to review human food and animal feed ingredients. This initiative includes a proposed user fee for Innovative Food Products.

“We believe that the additional resources requested from Congress will help our program better protect our nation’s food supply and lay the foundation for efforts to create a new era of smarter food safety in which new technologies can provide innovative products, help us better detect outbreaks, and better track and trace foods in the supply chain to prevent contaminated foods from reaching consumers,” FDA said.