- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 3 (UPI) — The Food and Drug Administration's proposed 2004 budget would serve up a big slice of the agency's fiscal pie to efforts that protect the nation's food supply from bioterrorism.

The FDA said Monday that President George W. Bush's budget request for the agency totals $1.7 billion, up 1.6 percent from the previous year. More than $20 million would be slated for food safety and counter-terrorism, said Jeff Weber, the FDA's associate commissioner for management assistance.

Some $5 million of that fund would be grants to states to build local infrastructure and prepare to be a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's network response should a bioterrorism attack occur in food.

Another $5 million would go to beef up research laboratories so they are fully equipped, accredited and prepared to prevent, detect, track and stop a biological attack in the food.

Money also would be directed to finance federal food safety inspections all around America's borders, Weber said.

Another $10.5 million would be used to implement a registration system for domestic and foreign food production and cover the costs of handling and storage.

"That's no redirected (money)," Weber said. "That's new money.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the FDA budget's increased attention to food security was a promising sign.

"I'm absolutely excited about that," he told UPI. "That's good news. We haven't paid that much attention to the nation's food supply."

More than $23 million of the FDA's budget — and the only expenditure larger than food safety — would help finance a 2 percent increase in employee paychecks. Payroll accounts for more than 60 percent of the agency's budget and there are 10,753 full-time employees.

Other top priorities include $4 million to improve patient safety. The FDA said medical errors are estimated to cause 40,000 to 100,000 patient deaths in hospitals. Funding would assist in implementing the Medical Product Surveillance Network or MedSun to maintain more thorough information on drugs and medical devices to reduce and avoid adverse side effects.

The budget includes $13 million for faster reviews of generic drug applications by pharmaceutical companies. Generic drugs are popular because prescription drug prices are rising at double-digit levels and Americans are seeking cheaper alternatives to brand name medications.

The FDA said current savings to consumers who use generic drugs are estimated at more than $20 million. Plans call for hiring an additional 40 full-time employees to help reduce the review time for generic drug applications and to help improve regulations for generic drug competition.

The budget plan calls for $5 million to expand the joint effort between the FDA and the National Institutes of Health — NIH gets an additional $25 million for this program as well — to ensure medicines have been properly evaluated for use in children.

Another $1 million would go toward increasing consumer access to over-the-counter drugs. The FDA said it plans to improve its regulatory process without compromising patient safety so consumers have quicker access to OTC treatments.

"Given the current state of the economy, and that a lot money is going into defense and homeland security, we're very pleased with what we got," Weber said.

Department of Health and Human Services chief Tommy Thompson agreed. In a statement released Monday, he said: "It is an excellent budget and we're delighted with it. This is a challenging time for the federal budget, with the need to strengthen our economy, protect the homeland and prepare for the possibility of war."

(Reported by Katrina Woznicki and Steve Mitchell, UPI Science News, in Washington)

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