Appropriators move to block FDA on sodium
APPROPRIATORS MOVE TO BLOCK FDA ON SODIUM: You might have missed it during the marathon seven-hour House agriculture spending bill markup on Tuesday, but appropriators approved a provision to block the FDA from issuing voluntary sodium reduction targets until the Institute of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can update the Dietary Reference Intake for sodium — a move that could shelve a key Obama administration priority.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, was approved by voice vote around the same time that Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, gave a regulatory update in remarks before the Grocery Manufacturers Association Science Forum. “Our emphasis is on releasing draft voluntary targets so we can begin dialogue with industry,” Mayne said.
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The FDA, of course, has been working on sodium reduction for several years, but industry leaders have grown increasingly anxious for the agency to release reduction targets soon so the process can get rolling before the end of the Obama administration. The IOM’s process for updating the DRI for sodium is expected to take at least 18 months — a timeline that extends well into the next administration. Brush up on the issue here.
And there are other nutrition riders: The bill runs interference on a proposed USDA healthy foods stocking rule for SNAP retailers, continues whole grain waivers for schools and says FDA needs to delay menu labeling enforcement (again) until a year after issuing guidance for industry. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, said Tuesday that the riders amount to “a significant step back for public health.”
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GIPSA ROADBLOCK WINS A ROUND: In a sign that there may be a statute of limitations on John Oliver-induced public shaming, Harris also successfully resurrected a controversial “GIPSA rider” during the markup on Tuesday.
The measure, which narrowly cleared the committee, 26-24, would block the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing regulations designed to protect poultry farmers who contract with large processing companies that typically own the birds. Among those voting against Harris’ amendment were five Republicans, including Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington. One Democrat voted in favor — Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. Last year, Congress kept language out of the bill after comedian Oliver excoriated and mocked lawmakers for not standing with chicken farmers.
Harris said during the hearing that the GIPSA rules would harm the tournament system in the poultry industry where companies pay farmers different amounts based mainly on feed efficiency. The Maryland Republican, who hails from a state with a $1 billion poultry industry and where Perdue Farms is headquartered, said the system encourages growers to take care of their animals and makes the U.S. poultry industry competitive in the global market. But longtime opponents of the rider, Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Chellie Pingree (Maine), said it puts poultry farmers on an unequal playing field with large corporations that can abuse the system and denies transparency into how pay is calculated.
The National Chicken Council contends that the current contracting system has “worked well for more than 60 years and has helped promote steady improvements in live chicken performance that have benefited chicken farmers, the companies they produce for, the well-being of the birds, and ultimately consumers.” Other agricultural groups weren’t so pleased, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. NFU President Roger Johnson called the appropriators’ move “appalling.”
HOUSE CALLS FOR OLIVE OIL TESTING: House appropriators also included a little-noticed provision in report language that calls on the FDA to test imported olive oil. “The committee is concerned with reports that consistently describe the prevalence of adulterated and fraudulently labeled olive oil imported into the United States and sold to American consumers,” the report says. “In addition, some products labeled as olive oil may contain seed oil, which poses a serious health risk to consumers who are allergic to seed oil.” The committee directs the FDA to come up with a sampling plan to test oils in the marketplace and report back to Congress. Concerns about fraudulent labeling in olive oil have simmered for several years, particularly after a critical 2007 New Yorker piece, but there remains some disagreement about the extent of the problem.
A quick round-up of tidbits you may have missed in the committee report: The FDA is asked to re-define what products can be labeled as “healthy” to reflect the latest science. The USDA is called on to do more to promote urban agriculture. The department is also asked to write a report on how food purchases differ between SNAP and non-SNAP consumers. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is asked to look into including vitamins in the Women Infants and Children Program; expresses concern about proposed new standards for organic livestock; and asks the FDA to study expiration and quality date labeling to help reduce food waste.
SAFE WATER IN SCHOOLS: One more thing you probably missed: There’s language asking the USDA to report to Congress on what it’s doing to ensure safe drinking water in schools and childcare facilities participating in meal programs. It’s something that’s required under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, but not strictly enforced. Pros can find more on how that bill could provide a way for USDA to increase oversight for school water safety here.
CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR FLINT: Speaking of water, the Michigan Attorney General is expected to announce criminal charges today in connection to the contamination crisis in Flint. More here.
U.K. AG SECRETARY TO NUDGE VILSACK ON BEEF, LAMB: Elizabeth Truss, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for food, rural affairs and agriculture, is meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Washington today and tells MA that she plans to press him on trade issues. Truss said she’ll be asking Vilsack about having USDA inspectors visit British beef and lamb producers in order to reopen the U.S. to imports of those products. British beef and lamb have been banned from the U.S. since 1989 over concerns about mad cow disease.
Truss also spoke briefly about Brexit-related concerns, noting that the rest of Europe is a major destination for U.K. agricultural exports. She quoted an estimate delivered by George Osborne, U.K.’s finance minister, on Monday that leaving the EU would cost the average British household as much as $6,100 a year by 2030 in lost wages, due to the British economy shrinking 6 percent. The U.K. is scheduled to vote June 23 on the matter. Read more about Osborne’s estimates here.
VILSACK TALKING ‘GOOD FOOD’: One thing to look for when the U.S. agriculture secretary takes the stage today at Food Tank’s annual summit in Washington is whether he refers to the “good food movement.” He used the expression three times during a 20-minute speech at Family Farmed’s Good Food Festival and Conference late last month in Chicago, Family Farmed’s Bob Benenson reported recently. The USDA has worked under Vilsack’s leadership to promote organic and local food. However, the “good food” terminology, which is used most often to refer to local, organic, humanely raised and family farm-identified food, is not warmly embraced by the entire agriculture industry because of what it implies about more conventionally produced food. Read Benenson’s article here. Watch Food Tank’s livestream of Vilsack’s presentation here.
WHAT ‘COVERT PROPAGANDA’? The EPA hasn’t found any major funding that was used for the Waters of the U.S. social media campaign condemned last year by the Government Accountability Office as “covert propaganda,” Administrator Gina McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a budget hearing Tuesday. The EPA’s response to the issue under the Antideficiency Act — which is meant to protect against spending federal money in unlawful ways and could mean sanctions like suspension, fines or imprisonment — is at the White House Office of Management and Budget for review, McCarthy added. “We haven’t really identified significant funding that went into either of those two actions,” she said.
TODAY: HOUSE AG REPUBLICANS TO RAIL ON EPA FUNDED BILLBOARDS: While we’re here, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and committee member Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) apparently have a lot to say about the billboards and campaign in Washington State funded by EPA grants that they argue is anti-farmer. While Conaway has already sent a letter voicing his concerns to the EPA on the “What’s upstream” campaign, today he is joining Newhouse in a call with reporters so that the lawmakers can detail everything they find wrong with the situation. The EPA has said that while the grant fund authorized a consumer education element endangered salmon recovery, there are some problems with the way the money was used. Stay tuned.
TACO BELL GOES ANTIBIOTIC FREE — BUT WHAT ABOUT KFC?: ICYMI, Taco Bell announced late Monday that it would become the latest fast food chain to stop using chicken raised with antibiotics used to treat humans. Hardly anyone noticed at first — the announcement was buried on the Taco Bell website with the wrong date — but a company spokesman confirmed the change to MA on Tuesday. In an email, spokesperson Alec Boyle wrote that Taco Bell will enforce a policy of “no human antibiotics ever in our chicken” starting the first quarter of 2017.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, owned by the same parent company, Yum!, also put out a statement Tuesday on antibiotics that was much less forceful. KFC said it would only use antibiotics to treat sick chickens — the same policy required by the FDA.
“KFC’s policy as written would still allow for antibiotics that continue antibiotic resistance,” Matthew Wellington, the field director for U.S. PIRG, said in an interview with Pro Ag. As for ending growth promotion, “It’s basically just changing the label,” he said.
IN THE NEWS: HILLARY & HOT SAUCE: Since there remains no policy substance, we continue to bring you the bizarre ways that food is intersecting with the 2016 campaign trail: MA readers already know Hillary Clinton has a long history of eating chilies as a way to boost her immune system, but the spicy Clinton connection hit new highs this week after the Democratic presidential candidate told a New York radio station she carries hot sauce in her purse (she was then jokingly accused of pandering to African-American voters, an exchange which later sparked real criticism from Donald Trump and others).
So what kind of hot sauce is HRC toting around? It’s Ninja Squirrel, a Whole Foods store brand of sriracha, which happens to be Non-GMO verified, for what it’s worth. More here.
BARRETT HEADS TO FOOD POLICY ACTION: Betsy Barrett has joined Food Policy Action as political and communications director. “Barrett … [was] a vice president in the strategic communications practice at The Glover Park Group. … Barrett helped launch the Internet Association — a national trade association representing the top U.S. internet companies — and led their communications, marketing and event planning. Before that, Barrett served as a senior adviser and communications director for Dean of the House, U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.).” http://bit.ly/1NyN0rR
— Land grant university programs are helping to keep farmers farming, according to a new study.
— The co-founders of Ben and Jerry’s were arrested as part of Democracy protests on Capitol Hill, CNN reports.
— A chocolate milk company under fire for funding research that touted its product as being able to help high school athletes recover from concussions wanted to promote the research to coincide with the movie “Concussion,” according to a report by AP.
— Scientists are stumped on how to remove artificial colors from Lucky Charms marshmallows, Quartz reports.
— Uproxx hosts a Q&A with Michael Pollan, in which he says he’s amazed by how much has changed in the food landscape since his first food book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, came out in 2006.
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