WASHINGTON The Bush administration on Monday proposed boosting funding to better protect the food supply, including opening an office in China.
In its fiscal 2009 budget, the White House proposed raising expenditures for food programs at the Food and Drug Administration to $543 million from an estimated $510 million in the prior year.
Overall, the White House requested an FDA budget of $2.4 billion for the 2009 fiscal year starting October 1, up only slightly from fiscal 2008.
Food safety has been a growing worry for U.S. consumers with reports of tainted bagged spinach and peanut butter along with a range of scares involving food and toys from China.
Last November, the Bush administration made proposals to better protect the country's food supply that included working closer with foreign governments to prevent dangerous foods from entering the United States.
Still, Caroline Smith DeWaal, a director with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, believes the FDA will still not have enough funds to protect the food supply.
"And while food safety is highlighted as an important area, if the agency has shortfalls elsewhere, it will likely move this money from foods to drugs or devices," said DeWaal.
The FDA is in charge of 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, mostly fruits, vegetables and processed foods, and has been criticized as being too passive in handling the growing surge of imports into the United States. USDA oversees the remaining 20 percent, including eggs, red meat and poultry.
Although food imports grow at 15 percent a year, FDA inspects about 1 percent of the goods under its purview. An estimated 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported.
FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach told reporters at a briefing on food safety in January that it would like to establish offices in Asia, especially in China and India, Europe, Central and South America and the Middle East.
In its budget, the Bush administration proposed establishing an FDA office in China "to better protect American consumers from unsafe products."
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Christian Wiessner)