With federal budget negotiations underway, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today conferred with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about maintaining the safety of the nation's food supply in light of steep cuts expected in the department's budget. Secretary Vilsack testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies, which Kohl chairs, about the department's FY2012 budget needs. Last year, Kohl cut significant funding from the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill compared to the previous year's level. Chairman Kohl explored whether there are areas that could tolerate additional spending cuts without compromising food safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares responsibility with the Food and Drug Administration to monitor and inspect domestic and imported food, with the USDA's efforts concentrated on meat and poultry.
"The American people rely on the Department of Agriculture every day. The American people also rely on us to make sure their tax dollars are spent wisely. As government spending declines, the need for wisdom in setting priorities becomes ever more acute," Kohl said at the hearing.
Last year, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act, which included a provision championed by Kohl that allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to refuse imported food from a foreign facility that does not allow U.S. inspectors into the country to inspect a facility within 48 hours of a request to enter. In 2007, Kohl launched a broad review of the nation's web of food safety laws to identify weaknesses. Subsequently, Kohl has worked to increase the FDA's corps of food safety inspectors domestically and abroad and developed new, regional rapid response teams across the country to identify and isolate contaminated produce at its source.
In January, Kohl introduced the Food Safety Accountability Act which increases criminal penalties on those individuals who deliberately put the food supply in jeopardy.
Kohl has also worked with the President's Food Safety Working Group, the interagency group tasked with overhauling the food safety system.