In case you missed it, Congress is in the midst of a pretty major food fight. At the center of it is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the first line of defense against hunger for more than 21 million American households. Going forward, however, an estimated 2 million people stand to lose SNAP benefits if the farm bill proposal passed by the House Agriculture Committee last month becomes law. The bill’s draconian work requirementsand eligibility changes threaten to upend the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families. But it could also deliver a serious blow to the economic vitality of many rural and small-town communities, in an economic domino effect that often starts at the local grocery store.
As meat substitute products that use new technologies proliferate and the debate over what is and is not meat heats up, Congress jumped into the fray last week with a paragraph in its proposed USDA budget that would give the agency jurisdiction over products made in labs from animal cells. The proposed legislation states: “For fiscal year 2018 and hereafter, the Secretary shall regulate products made from cells of amenable species of livestock, as defined in the Federal Meat Inspection Act, or poultry, as defined in the Poultry Products Inspection act, grown under controlled conditions for use as human food, and shall issue regulations prescribing the type and frequency of inspection required for the manufacture and processing of such products, as well as other requirements necessary to prevent the adulteration and misbranding of these products.”
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is launching an initiative to prioritize outreach to small and very small establishments in each of the 10 districts throughout the country, enhancing its existing outreach resources, the agency said in its Constituent Update newsletter. More than 90% of the approximately 6,000 plants inspected by FSIS are considered small or very small. Outreach to these businesses is critically important — ensuring they have the tools, guidance, and resources needed to comply with FSIS regulations and deliver products that are safe and wholesome.
Three U.S. senators have launched a legislative effort designed to allow meat and poultry products already inspected by state programs to be sold across state lines, which currently is prohibited. The bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Angus King (I-Maine) would open the door for products that are processed in 27 states to be sold in other nearby states and open up new markets to producers. Those states with regional Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs that also are certified by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) often meet or exceed federal inspection standards, but the proteins currently cannot be sold in other states.
Last week, the USDA finally released its proposed rule outlining the ways in which it may implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Here, I want to point out a few things that were news (at least to me) in the proposed rule.One of the controversial facets of the original bill was that it allowed for disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients via a QR code (this is an issue we have researched - e.g., see here). In addition to the QR code or a text disclosure, it appears companies might be able to also use one of several different types of labels (I am not aware of any publicly available research on consumer perception of these labels). It also appears that a food may only have to be labeled if it actually contains genetically engineered (or shall i now say "bioengineered") ingredients that contain recombinant DNA. Why does this matter? What will be the tolerances or thresholds that would trigger mandatory labeling?
Although the GOP repeal-and-replace mantra seems to have quieted, some Republican lawmakers continue efforts to get around the sweeping federal health law's requirements. Sometimes that happens in surprising places. Like the farm bill.Tucked deep inside the House version of the massive bill — amid crop subsidies and food assistance programs — is a provision that supporters say could help provide farmers with cheaper (and likely less comprehensive) health insurance than plans offered through the Affordable Care Act.
A Virginia state senator filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday, claiming that federal officials are illegally blocking access to a road in the Jefferson National Forest where several people are protesting construction of a natural gas pipeline. State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who is a lawyer, filed the suit at the federal courthouse in Roanoke after being prohibited from using the road to reach the protesters last week.His action opens another legal front in the fight over the right to protest the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 303-mile project that starts in West Virginia and crosses through Virginia’s southwest mountains.
This year Congress is expected to pass a piece of legislation that deeply affects the lives of all Americans and determines the strategic positioning of the United States in global agriculture for the next five years. The Farm Bill influences the food we eat, how we grow it, and the lives of the farmers who do so. Funding for agricultural research and development (R&D) only makes up a tiny sliver of the Farm Bill’s budget—about 0.2 percent in the 2014 bill—but it has profound consequences for U.S. agricultural competitiveness and global food security. The United States has historically been at the forefront of agricultural science and innovation, but our leadership is slipping: China has been outspending us 2 to 1on agricultural research since 2013.
The Pennsylvania congressional delegation has a unique opportunity to work together to restore the nonpartisan integrity of the nation's Farm Bill. Crafted generations ago to balance the needs of rural food producers with struggling food consumers, the Farm Bill has served as a remarkable example of law that reflects the best in government policymaking - until now.The 2018 Farm Bill proposal that is close to being debated by the House of Representatives represents a dangerous shift in that long-standing legislative history.The Farm Bill's flagship nutrition program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has been singled out for unprecedented and draconian changes. Democrats and Republicans should work together to improve SNAP, but the current proposal will be harmful to seniors, children and others who need the support of SNAP to get through a tough period in their lives.
The rules that dictate how companies must tell consumers when they are buying genetically engineered food are open for comment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking input on a proposed rule to create the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which was passed by Congress in 2016. Comments are due by early July. The standard will provide a uniform way to offer meaningful disclosure for consumers who want more information about their food and avoid a patchwork system of state or private labels that could be confusing for consumers and would likely drive up food costs, the agency said in a news release.