This month, after weeks of haggling, Congress increased the agency’s funding by nearly 3 percent from last year’s level to $3.8 billion. Of all the additional money FDA secured, the new food safety program captured the largest amount: $39 million.
“Having consumers who were directly affected by food-borne illnesses standing shoulder to shoulder with the food industry sent a powerful message,” said Erik Olson, director of food programs at the Pew Health Group. “It’s not every day that a member of Congress sees somebody from a large food company come in with a consumer group to ask for more resources.”
Just as unusual is that industry, which has often battled against increased government oversight of its businesses, is chasing after any money at all for the agency.
“At a time when some industries are trying to handcuff their regulators, the food industry is advocating for a stronger regulator with more powers and more resources,” said Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
GMA, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Snack Food Association and the Produce Marketing Association were among many groups that made their case in an advertisement sponsored by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA. The ad said that “a science-based and predictable FDA” helps industry to innovate and create high-paying jobs. The products regulated by FDA account for more than 20 percent of U.S. consumer spending.
There are plenty of other dollars-and-cents reasons for industry to support a stronger FDA, experts who track the industry said. Major recalls linked to food-borne illnesses exact real and reputational costs by shaking consumer confidence.
Demand for spinach took years to recover after the 2006 E. Coli outbreak, with total retail expenditures on bagged spinach dropping about $202 million in the 68 weeks after the recall, according to federal data. Kellogg said that it cost roughly $70 million for it to recall some of its peanut-containing products in the wake of a deadly salmonella outbreak linked to one of its suppliers, a peanut processing plant in Georgia. More recently, a listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupe from one Colorado farm destabilized the entire melon industry.
“I mean God forbid to have another recall like this. . . . It just froze the market,” Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, chief executive of Fresh Del Monte Produce, said this month in a call with analysts after his company released its quarterly earnings.