It is going to be a busy week for food and health issues in the Capital. President Obama is expected to announce the way forward for health care reform and there are a number of food policy events on Capitol Hill, including a briefing on antibiotics in agriculture, the first congressional hearing on the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, and Senate lobby days for the pending FDA food safety reform bill.
Here’s a guide to key food-related events on the Hill this week:
Briefing on Alternatives to Routine Antibiotic Use in Food Animal Production
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming are hosting a briefing focusing on successful business models for raising food animals without the routine use of antibiotics. Feinstein is a lead sponsor of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that would ban the routine, or nontherapeutic, use of antibiotics in food animal production in an effort to curb antibiotic resistance.
The briefing, which will be held in the Dirksen Senate office building from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., will be moderated by Stephen Jay, Ph.D., a professor of medicine and public health at Indiana University School of Medicine, and will feature presentations from several antibiotic-free meat producers. Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch; Linda Boardman, president of Applegate Farms, an organic meat and cheese supplier for Whole Foods; and Steve Ells, chairman and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, the largest purchaser of “naturally raised” meat in the U.S., are all on the panel.
According to Pew, up to 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals on industrial farms “to promote growth and compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.”
Committeee Hearing: Improving Children’s Health: Strengthening Federal Child Nutrition Programs
The House Education and Labor Committee is holding a hearing on strengthening the federal nutrition and school meal problems though the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization. According to the committee’s statement, “Improving federal child nutrition programs is one of the four pillars of First Lady Michelle Obama’s recently announced “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity.”
Food safety concerns are likely to be discussed during the authorization process, especially in light of a slew of recent school lunch safety exposes in USA Today and the New York Times revealed gaps in the current system.
It was rumored that Mrs. Obama might testify in the hearing, but those rumors have since been debunked by White House aides.
The witness list has yet to be announced, even though the hearing is tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. A webcast of the hearing will be available on the committee’s website.
(Sidenote: committee chairman Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is so excited about child nutrition, he made a YouTube video about his meeting with Mrs. Obama to discuss the issue.)
Wednesday & Thursday
Make Our Food Safe Coalition – Food Safety Action Day
The Make Our Food Safe Coalition (MOFS) is making another push for Senate action on the pending FDA food safety bill. Final details have yet to be released, but key members of the coalition, which is made up of public health, consumer, and industry groups, said they are bringing 45 foodborne illness victims and family members from 24 states to meet with Senators and urge action on S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill that would increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s mandate and authority to regulate 80 percent of the food supply.
“The message we are delivering is two-fold: Act now to get Senate leadership to put the bill on the floor for a vote and oppose any amendment that could threaten the passage of this important bipartisan legislation,” said a spokesperson for MOFS.
Wednesday the group will meet for dinner and the day of action will kick off Thursday at 8 a.m.
As Food Safety News has reported a number of times, S. 510 has been stalled behind the health care reform gridlock in the Senate for months after being unanimously voted out of committee in November. Many of the staffers working on health care are the same ones charged with working out the details on the food safety bills.
Of course, Food Safety News will be covering the food action on the Hill. Stay tuned for coverage, and follow us on Twitter at @foodsafetynews for live-tweeting.