Two key food and agriculture measures inched forward on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. A Senate appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that would increase funding at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by $53 million for the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the House kicked off debate on its version of the farm bill.
The $20.93 billion appropriations bill, which also covers the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would fund several food and agriculture programs for fiscal year 2014. The legislation would give FDA $2.5 billion in discretionary spending, which the committee noted is $96 million over fiscal year 2013. More than half of that is slated to help the agency roll out and enforce FSMA.
Steve Grossman, executive director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, a group of industry and consumer groups that lobby for more funding for the agency, lauded the panel for increasing resources at the agency during a tough budgetary time.
“The Alliance is very pleased by the Senate subcommittee mark,” said Grossman. “We will continue to work for the largest possible appropriation for the agency, whose responsibilities keep growing every year. We appreciate the recognition that Chairman Pryor and Ranking Member Blunt have given to this reality.”
Under the plan, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive just over $1 billion, $7 million below FY 2013. The bill includes full funding for all federal, state and international inspection services, according to a breakdown released by the appropriations committee. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service would get $1.1 billion, which represents a $51 billion boost over FY 13.
The measure was approved during a quick subcommittee meeting Tuesday morning and will next be considered by the full appropriations committee.
“I’m proud of the bill we’re reporting today,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), chair of the subcommittee at the hearing. “We have worked hard to invest these tax dollars into programs that provide direct benefits to our farmers and rural communities and to programs that provide health and safety benefits to all of us.”
“Overall some difficult decisions had to be made, but overall I think this is a well balanced bill that allocates funds where they are needed most,” he added.
On Tuesday afternoon, the House also began its consideration of its version of the farm bill, just two weeks after the Senate approved its version. While the biggest point of debate is expected to be over the size of the House bill’s cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, it’s also very likely that FSMA and other food safety issues will come up during the debate.
During some opening floor statements, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), who represents the Yakima Valley, an extremely productive specialty crop area, expressed concerns about FSMA’s draft produce safety regulations. Hastings said he was particularly concerned about how the regulations would impact tree fruit growers.
“I think we can all agree that lettuce and apples are grown in completely different ways,” he said, noting that the former is grown on the ground and the latter in trees. Hastings urged FDA to tailor the regulations to match the risk and the way different crops are grown. House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said on the floor that he agreed with Hastings, hinting that FDA may have gone too far “in its zeal to achieve marginal food safety gains.”
Nearly 230 amendments have been filed. Among them, an amendment by Rep. Tony Carenas (D-CA) that would expand food safety education initiatives to include training farm workers on how to identify sources of food contamination and how to decrease contamination events and an amendment by Dan Benishek (R-MI) that would requires “a scientific and economic analysis” of FSMA prior to final regulations being enforced.
The House is expected to resume consideration of the farm bill and dive into amendments on Wednesday. See Food Safety News in the coming days for more on the discussion. A full round up of amendments that have been filed can be found on the House Rules Committee website here.© Food Safety News