03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush Veto Could Threaten Food Safety For Millions

In the wake of a scathing report detailing the dangerously poor state of the Food and Drug Administration, one lawmaker is calling on President Bush to rethink a veto threat of much-needed funds for the agency.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, who leads the House panel responsible for FDA funding, called on President Bush to lift his objections to the agriculture appropriations bill, in which there is a drastic increase in money for the FDA. Without the infusion of cash, DeLauro said, U.S. consumers would be at great risk regarding food and drug safety.

"There is money that the House and Senate put into these bills," DeLauro told the Huffington Post. "[The President] says it's too much money... but if this were about fiscal responsibility, look what we're spending on the Iraq War."

On Monday, a panel known as the Science Board declared that the FDA - which overseas 80 percent of the nation's food - is in disrepair, suffering from a "plethora of inadequacies." The agency has too few capable scientists and too many "obsolete" information-technology systems, according to the report's authors. Food-makers are inspected only once every 10 years. Since 1972, FDA inspections of the food supply have dropped 78 percent due to soaring numbers of products and inadequate funding. Moreover, despite a huge growth in the agency's responsibilities, the FDA staff has remained the same size over the last 15 years.

The report suggested that blame for the shortfall rests with Congress. The legislative body, the authors noted, has enacted 125 statutes giving the FDA new or expanded responsibilities since 1988, without enough funding to cover the extra work.

Yet prior to the report's issuance both the Senate and the House of Representatives allocated an increase in funding for the FDA. In early August, the House passed an agricultural appropriations bill that included $1.69 billion for the agency, more than $128 million than what was spent in 2007 and more than $62 million more than the president's had requested. The money, according to DeLauro, would have been dependent on the FDA making comprehensive reforms, such as transforming food safety regulations and improving drug safety.

But the measure was deemed controversial because it permitted the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from other countries and because its $91 billion price tag was $1 billion more than the Bush administration wanted. The President, to the consternation of most Democrats and some Republicans, threatened to veto the measure on grounds that it was fiscally irresponsible.

"The fact is, with the FDA, the Congress has spent 47 percent more money in 2007 then it did in 2002," said DeLauro. "And in that time the administration and the agency did not ask for any additional funds. Now, when the funds are needed, the President is about to veto the agriculture bill that contains money for the FDA."

Following Monday's report, DeLauro is hoping Bush will rethink his stance. The bill, she notes, is not a blank check for the FDA. It calls on the agency to undertake strict reforms with regards to increasing food safety. And it stipulates that some money will be left un-granted should the agency fail to present Congress with a comprehensive plan forward.

"Yes the agency needs more resources," said DeLauro, "but I'm not about to provide resources to an agency that ultimately needs better management in place... Should we appropriate more money from the Congress? Yes. But the [FDA] needs to come forward with a plan detailing comprehensive reform."