by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Congress

Jan 3 2023

What’s up with appropriations?

President Biden signed H.R. 2617, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023.  

I’m interested in what the $1.7 trillion , 1600-page bill does for food issues.  It mentions the word “food” 786 times.  It mentions “agriculture” 213 times.  Fortunately, most of this is in Division A.  Even so, one longs for summaries. For whatever they are worth, here are a few I’ve collected.

Let me see if I can make some sense of this.

USDA highlights

  • $25.48 billion in discretionary spending (more than last year, less than what Biden asked for).
  • $3.7 billion for research ($1.74 billion for the Agricultural Reseach Service and $1.7 billion for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • $1.17 billion for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), more than $60 million above last year’s.
  • $1.15 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, including funding to reduce user fees and to retain veterinarians.
  • Nutrition programs: $154 billion for SNAP; $6 billion for WIC; an increase of $6.6 million for commodities; an increase of $11 million for emergency food assistance.
  • International food assistance: $1.75 billion for Food for Peace grants (an increase), and $243 million for the McGovern-Dole education program (an increase).

FDA 

  • $6.56 billion for everything (but this includes a large percentage to be derived from food, drug, and tobacco user fee revenues).  These include increases for food safety and  some core functions.

The bill does some other things worth mentioning.  It includes: funds to:

  • Expand the Summer EBT program and makes it permanent as of 2024.
  • Addresses SNAP EBT skimming (stealing benefits across state lines).
  • Test for testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS—forever chemicals)
  • Make sure lobster and crab fisheries are in compliance with rules about whales.

It takes a lot of expertise to analyze all of this.  Here are two reactions.

Heritage Action: This omnibus package represents the very worst of Washington: back-room deals, $1.85 trillion dollar spending bills full of pet projects and partisan priorities, and an Establishment more interested in their own power than the wellbeing of the American people. The GOP must stand united in their opposition to this bill.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: The biggest disappointment of the year-end bill by far is the failure to expand the Child Tax Credit. The American Rescue Plan’s expanded credit and other relief measures drove the child poverty rate to a record low of 5.2 percent in 2021. But with the expansion’s expiration, that record progress in reducing child poverty in 2021 has sharply reversed.

There are lots of other criticisms of this bill floating around, mainly having to do with what the Biden Administration asked for but did not get, and concerns about inadequate funding of FDA for food safety.

On this last point, let me again say that the perennially underfunded FDA gets its appropriations from agriculture committees, even though it is an agency of the public health service.  Agriculture subcommittees could not care less about FDA.  FDA needs a mandated home in Congress and much better support than it now gets.

Happy new year.

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Jul 19 2022

The failing FDA: What is to be done?

Everyone is worried about the FDA (or should be) and I’ve been collecting suggestions for how to fix it.  I have three so far.

I.  Move food safety out of FDA and into a new Food Safety Administration. 

This would be housed (as FDA is) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Senators Durbin, Blumenthal, and DeLauro have proposed legislation to do this.  The bill text is here and a fact sheet here.

  • “In recent years, FDA has been plagued by one failure after another—from a failure to properly recognize the dangers of prescription opioids, to a failure to protect children from e-cigarette products, to a failure to properly ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Durbin. “The sad reality is that FDA seems unwilling or unable to use their authority to protect Americans from preventable illness and death.
  • “Americans deserve to know the food on their plates is safe to eat,” said Blumenthal. “By protecting consumers from foodborne illnesses and acting swiftly to respond to recalls, the Food Safety Administration will improve the safety of our nation’s vital food supply.”
  • “Food safety is currently a second-class citizen at the Food and Drug Administration,” said DeLauro. “Right now, there are no food policy experts in charge of food safety at the FDA.”

II.  Move all food functions out of FDA into a separate agency.

This is proposed by several public action groups:  Consumer Reports, STOP Foodborne illness, the Environmental Working Group, and Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

[The] groups discussed the need for congressional action to separate the food portion of the Food and Drug Administration into a separate agency under the Depart of Health and Human Services. The agency would be solely devoted to the food side of the FDA, which oversees 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.

These groups have not developed specific details about how this might work.

III.  Move FDA’s food functions into USDA.

This proposal comes from Jerry Mande, former FDA and USDA official:  “A Farm to Fork approach to Fixing FDA’s food program.”

USDA is best positioned to succeed due to its history and mission. Created by President Abraham Lincoln to be the “people’s department,” USDA has the comprehensive resources and authorities needed to succeed. These include its 15 nutrition assistance programs and their $175 billion budget, its farm executive directors in every state and its transformative extension agents in literally every county, and the nation’s leading food and nutrition research programs.

Specifically, we propose that the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN) merge with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) under one Food, Nutrition and Health mission area at the USDA.

The Government Accountability Office has been calling for a separate food safety agency since at least 1990.  Its idea would be to combine the food safety functions of FDA (generally, plant foods and food products), USDA (generally, animal foods), and other federal agencies.  From a food safety perspective, that makes sense.

But what about FDA’s other food functions, such as oversight of  food ingredients, labels, and health claims?

And what about food advertising (FTC), health risks (CDC), etc?

What’s good about this is that doing something to strengthen food regulation is on the agenda.

How best to do it?

Ultimately, it’s up to Congress.

Feb 27 2017

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas)

The chair of the House Ag Committee , Mike Conaway from Texas, provides his votes on issues summarized in a handy chart.  ‘

According to Politico, his opinion on whether SNAP should omit sugary beverages is unclear, although

He did offer his take on sugar-sweetened drinks: “Sugary drinks have a clear impact on people’s health, but if we eliminated them off the face of the earth, I don’t know that obesity rates would be any different.”

And then there’s The Food Marketing Institute , which posted this appreciative tweet:*

 

Apr 13 2015

Write to Congress. File comments on the Dietary Guidelines.

Everyone I speak to in Washington, DC says the same thing: if you want policies to change in favor of healthy food systems, you must contact members of Congress and say what you think they should do.  If they get comments on issues, they listen.  If they don’t, nothing will change.

It’s not hard to send an e-mail or telephone your representatives.

Thanks to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the invaluable Hagstrom Report, for producing instant guides and contact information to members of the Senate and House agriculture committees.

As for the contentious 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the comment period has been extended to May 8.  The agencies make it easy to file comments.  Do it here.

The comments don’t need to be long or complicated.  Just indicate identify yourself, state the topic you are concerned about, say what you’d like the guidelines to say, and if possible add a reference or two.

Do this and you will be encouraging the agencies to do the right thing.

If you don’t, who will?

Addition, April 14:  Here’s a video explanation of how to file comments on the dietary guidelines.