The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a $19.45 billion funding bill to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies, for fiscal year 2014. The bill would ban funding for USDA horse slaughter inspection and give FDA a relatively minor boost for food safety — $27 million out of a $4.3 billion budget for the entire agency.
The legislation — which is $1.3 billion lower than FY 2013 and $516 million below President Obama’s budget request — would give the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service $999 million, a $31 million decrease over the last fiscal year. The Agricultural Research Service would get $2.5 billion.
Under the plan, the FDA would get nearly $2.5 billion in discretionary funding, but including revenue from user fees the agency would see $4.3 billion. “Within this total, food safety activities are increased by $27 million, and drug safety activities are increased by $2.5 million,” according to the appropriations committee. The FDA would also get a $35 million sum to revamp its IT system. The increases are modest in the context of FDA’s expanding food safety authority. The Congressional Budget Office estimated, for example, that FDA would need about $1.4 billion in additional funding over five years just to properly implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
“This is a very good bill we put together,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chairman of the subcommittee on agriculture appropriations, during a full committee markup on Thursday.
There were a handful of food safety-related amendments discussed during the meeting.
An amendment by Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Bill Young (R-FL) that would prohibit USDA funding for horse slaughter inspection, which would essentially ban the practice in the United States, was approved by voice vote. Animal welfare advocates praised the move, as they argue the practice is inhumane, unnecessary, and presents a health risk because horses are often given drugs that can linger in horsemeat and are harmful to people who consume the meat.
Read more coverage on the horse slaughter debate here.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) urged the committee to adopt language asking USDA to move forward on a proposed rule to “modernize poultry inspection.”
“Basically we’re trying to keep up with technology,” said Kingston, discussing the merits of the long-running HACCP-based Inspection Models Project. Kingston noted that USDA has been using the pilot extensively for 10 years but has yet to finalize a rule to expand the program.
“This would improve the science,” said Kingston during markup. His amendment urging USDA to move forward was adopted on a voice vote over concerns raised by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
DeLauro said during markup that she and her colleagues still have several questions about the program, especially about how it would impact food and worker safety, in large part because the rule allows plants to speed up their line speeds. She asked the committee to wait on asking USDA to move forward until the results of National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) studies were completed.
Rep. Kingston also introduced an amendment aimed at preventing “bureaucratic overreach” to ensure FDA was not planning to extend FSMA authority over raw grains and oil seeds, which don’t have a record of food safety issues.
“All I’m trying to do is make sure FDA stays in the lane its already traveling in,” he said during the meeting.
Subcommittee ranking member Farr objected and said he thought the amendment was aimed at a non-problem. “I don’t think your amendment does anything,” he said.
Kingston noted that he did not support FSMA because he believes it is unnecessary and duplicative and then withdrew the proposal and said he’d work with his colleagues on the matter.
DeLauro was also unsuccessful with her amendment seeking to strip language from the appropriations bill that would delay implementation of country of origin labeling for meat and poultry products. “This could delay a rule for up to two years,” she said.
The congresswoman noted that seafood, produce, and other items indicate their country of origin on the labeling and so she argued that consumers had a right to know where their meat and poultry originated as well.
Subcommittee chair Aderholt noted that Canada and Mexico have geared up to retaliate against the the latest version of USDA’s rule, because they believe it fails to meet the United State’s obligation under the World Trade Organization.
DeLauro, who expressed strong disagreement and noted that 90 percent of consumers support country of origin labeling for meats, withdrew her amendment, acknowledging that she didn’t have the support to pass it.
Public health advocates said Thursday they were pleased the appropriations bill also contains report language directing FDA to spend $7.8 million on the National Microbial Resistance Monitoring System and to come up with a data collection approach that can be used to “assess the effectiveness of policies to curb antibiotic resistance.” The report language directs FDA to finalize its Guidance #213 by Jan. 1, 2014 and then to make specific annual reports on the progress of the removal of growth promotion claims on certain medically important antibiotics.
The legislation, which cleared the full appropriations committee by voice vote, will next be considered by the full House, where it will likely be subject to many amendments.© Food Safety News