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Congress passes FY 2018 omnibus bill with FDA, USDA food policy priorities

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The Senate voted 65-32 for the new $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 with several food policy directives.

The bill, which is the culmination of months of negotiations, first passed the House Thursday and Congress worked into early Friday to avoid another government shutdown.

Republicans and Democrats agreed on the budget levels in February, when they passed their most recent short-term spending bill, but their agreement on the 2,232-page spending package released by House lawmakers Wednesday evening (March 21) would finalize the numbers for the rest of the fiscal year.

Compared to the last FY 18 Continuing Resolution, the omnibus bill will add significant resources for FDA this year, including $41 million in additional Budget Authority (BA) appropriations, “with a focus on improvements in food safety, enhancing the Oncology Center of Excellence initiative and managing increased workloads in the animal drugs and feed programs,” Alliance for a Stronger FDA said in March 22 press statement.

The omnibus bill includes $1.042 billion in BA appropriations only for FY 2018 for FDA’s food activities, which is $16 million more than the agency got in FY 2017, the alliance noted. For FDA’s activities related to animal drugs and feed, the bill includes $ 173 million in BA appropriations for FY 2018, which is $10 million more than FDA got in FY 2017.

For USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the legislation includes $1.06 billion, an increase of $25 million above the 2017 enacted level. The bill includes $985.1 million – $36 million above the FY 2017 enacted level – for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). It also provides $3.03 billion – $138.8 million above FY 2017 – for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

It also includes a $3 million increase for the National Organic Program for USDA to "focus these resources on robust fraud detection and oversight to ensure the USDA organic seal remains verified and trusted." 

Key food policy provisions survive

The omnibus bill has several key food policy provisions that were approved by House and Senate Appropriations Committee, such as language on genetically engineered salmon, sodium regulations and guidance and Chinese chicken imports.

A provision in the omnibus bill would prevent any funds from being used by FDA to develop, issue, promote, or advance any sodium reduction regulations or final guidance for food manufacturers until the agency has completed a dietary reference intake report for sodium.

The spending bill also bars FDA from allowing any food that contains genetically engineered salmon to be introduced into interstate commerce until the agency publishes final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content.

In addition, language offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) is included that withholds any funds from being used to procure raw or processed poultry imported from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for use in the school lunch program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program for Children, or the school breakfast program.

It also includes language DeLauro fought for that prevents USDA from moving forward with a proposed rule to allow the importation of chicken raised and slaughtered in China unless the secretary of agriculture can assure that China’s food safety systems are equivalent.

This language was added to ensure that equivalency was granted on China's entire food safety system and not confined to the two provinces that FSIS audited for the proposed slaughter rule, ‘‘Eligibility of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Export to the United States Poultry Products from Birds Slaughtered in the PRC,’’ Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for Food & Water Watch, told IEG Policy.

House lawmakers recently urged that both Chinese chicken restrictions be included in the fiscal 2019 spending bill.

The omnibus bill also requires the secretary of agriculture to conduct audits in a manner that “evaluates the following factors in the country or region being audited, as applicable: veterinary control and oversight; disease history and vaccination practices; livestock demographics and traceability; epidemiological separation from potential sources of infection; surveillance practices; diagnostic laboratory capabilities; and emergency preparedness and response.” Final reports of any audits conducted should be promptly made publicly available.

Another provision bars partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from being deemed unsafe, or any food that contains a PHO from being deemed adulterated until the June 18, 2018 compliance date for FDA’s 2015 final determination that PHOs are no longer considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) kicks in.

The omnibus bill also bars FDA from carrying out a final rule that became effective Nov. 16, 2015, related to hazard analysis and risk-based preventive control requirements for the production, distribution, sale, or receipt of dried spent grain byproducts of the alcoholic beverage production process.

Another alcohol-related provision in the omnibus bill bars FDA from enforcing a 2015 final rule, ‘‘Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption,’’ for grape varietals that are grown, harvested and used solely for wine and receive commercial processing that adequately reduces the presence of microorganisms of public health significance.

New language on ‘imitation’ dairy products attached

U.S. milk producers say they scored a big victory as the bill includes report language directing FDA to take action against “mislabeled imitation dairy foods,” in language that mirrors the DAIRY PRIDE Act.

Introduced by dairy-state lawmakers in 2017, the Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk, and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday Act, known as the DAIRY PRIDE Act, seeks to push FDA to act against misbranded, plant-based beverages that are using dairy terms, especially “milk.”

Under new report language attached to the omnibus bill, Congress expressed concern about some plant-based beverages that are using labels such as milk, cheese or yogurt, said the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

The congressional directive to FDA “will stem the flagrant misuse of the word ‘milk’ on products that are, by FDA’s own definition, not milk nor are made from milk,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. This measure will help end the confusion that just co-opting a word somehow makes a food nutritionally equivalent,” he said.

In other action, an explanatory statement attached to the omnibus bill discusses another labeling issue. It notes FDA has not finalized the rule to extend the compliance date for manufacturers for the Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule and the Serving Size Final Rule, “which is causing significant confusion and market disruptions,” and directs the agency to finalize the rule before July 26, 2018.

The agreement also directs the agency to issue its conclusions on the status of pending dietary fiber ingredients “expeditiously.”

And it mentions concerns about a Food Safety Modernization Act rule. While the agreement fully supports the requirement for all covered facilities to have food defense plans, it notes concerns have been raised that the May 27, 2016 final rule, “Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration,” is “overly prescriptive, costly, and inconsistent with current successful practices that have been used to protect the nation's food supply. To address these concerns, the agreement urges FDA to consider providing more time for further collaborative dialogue with stakeholders.

 

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