POLITICS

FDA rolls back dire warnings on food inspections

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Food and Drink,Health,Michal Conger

Food and Drug Administration officials are backing off dire predictions that sequestration would endanger public health by eliminating thousands of food safety inspections, saying today the agency hopes not to cut inspections after all.

The FDA’s initial estimate was that as many as 2,100 inspections could be cut, but a spokeswoman told The Washington Examiner today the agency expects to spare inspections and prevent furloughs by make cuts to other expenses like travel and training.

The 2,100 fewer inspections were a worst-case initial estimate, spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said. She confirmed the FDA does not expect to cut inspections or furlough workers at this point, but couldn’t provide details on how training and travel will be affected.

The FDA hasn’t completely rolled back its public health warnings, though.

“A sequestration of the magnitude contemplated, and this late in the budget year will have public health consequences for an agency that is already making every dollar count,” Burgess said in an email. “Reduced funding for the FDA, including user fees, could increase risks to our nation’s food safety.”

The FDA works closely on food safety with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where one official was warned not to make sequestration cuts less painful than originally promised.

“We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else that ‘[Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] would eliminate assistance to producers in 24 States in managing wildlife damage to the aquaculture industry, unless they provide funding to cover the costs,’” an unnamed USDA official wrote to APHIS regional director Charles Brown in March.

“So, it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be.”

UPDATED May 7, 9:30: An earlier version incorrectly stated that FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said the estimates were based on 18 percent budget cuts. That number came from a separate media report and has been removed.

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