Congress Returned to a Long “To-Do” List in a Short Amount of Time
Congress reconvened on November 13 for a lame duck session. Congress will use this time in an attempt to avert the “fiscal cliff” (tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to happen in January) and will decide whether to extend farm bill programs.
There were no significant changes to agriculture committee leadership in the House and Senate after the November 6 elections. However, it is not clear whether the farm bill that expired September 30 will be extended for a year, for a shorter amount of time, or if efforts will succeed to pass some version of the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill or Senate-passed bill.
The delay has focused attention on the size of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which makes up about 80 percent of the mandatory costs of the farm bill. On November 9, USDA released the most recent participation data from August which showed a record-high participation level of 47.1 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits. In 2011 the cost of the program was $75 billion.
FDA Food-Facility Registration Program Starts After Three-Week Delay
On October 22, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began accepting food-facility registration renewals. This implements a new requirement established by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which states that all registered food facilities must renew their registrations biennially on each even-numbered year. These registrations were three weeks late, and FDA is considering whether to accept registration renewals after the December 31 deadline.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 Process Begins
As mandated by Congress, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) form the basis for government nutrition initiatives and are developed and released jointly by HHS and USDA every five years. Leadership alternates between the two agencies. They are intended to inform the public on the most current, scientifically sound nutrition advice available.
In addition to informing the public, federal nutrition programs, such as the School Lunch Program, must adhere to the guidelines. The amount of food purchased by this program is significant. If you compared the $10.8 billion cost of the School Lunch program in 2010 to restaurant-industry sales revenue, it would be behind McDonalds ($31 billion in sales in 2009), about equal to Subway ($10 billion), and slightly ahead of Burger King ($9 billion) and Wendy’s ($8.4 billion).
A Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appointed jointly by HHS and USDA creates the guidelines. Applicants are expected to be knowledgeable about current scientific research in human nutrition and chronic disease and be respected and published experts in their field.
The October 26 Federal Register included a notice to solicit nominations for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and begin the revision process for the 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. NAMA joined other partners in the grains industry, including American Bakers Association, Grain Foods Foundation, National Pasta Association, USA Rice Federation, and Wheat Foods Council in asking for an extension of the deadline to submit nominations. This would provide adequate time for stakeholders to evaluate potential candidates for nomination. The deadline was extended to December 11, 2012
California’s Biotech-Labeling Initiative Fails at Ballot Box but Issue Isn’t Going Away
By a margin of 53-47, California’s Proposition 37 voter initiative failed in the recent election. Had it passed, foods with a GM content of more than 0.5 percent would have required labeling by July 2014. As has been widely reported, opponents spent $46 million to defeat the measure, far exceeding the supporters in advertising. Supporters also waged a large social media campaign.
Still, most observers believe the issue isn’t going away. Efforts to get similar labeling initiatives on future ballots are underway in other states, led by Washington in 2013 and Oregon in 2014. Additionally, state legislatures in Vermont and Connecticut are considering legislation to require GM labeling.