USDA Seeks Comments on Proposed Rule for National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has invited public comment on the proposed rule to establish the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. 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. “This rulemaking presents several possible ways to determine what foods will be covered by the final rule and what the disclosure will include and look like,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We are looking for public input on a number of these key decisions before a final rule is issued later this year.” The proposed rule is open for comment for 60 days. Due to the congressionally mandated timeline for this rulemaking, the comment period will not be extended, so it is important that anyone interested file comments in a timely manner.
Comments may now be submitted online through the Federal eRulemaking portal www.regulations.gov. Comments may also be filed with the Docket Clerk, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 4543-South, Washington, DC 20250; Fax: (202) 690-0338.
The deadline for comments is July 3, 2018.
The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Law was enacted by Congress on July 29, 2016. The proposed rule was previewed in the May 3, Federal Register.
Dr. Thomas Shanower named Acting NIFA Director
USDA Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Research, Education, Economics and Acting Chief Scientist Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young announced that Thomas Shanower will become acting director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) until a permanent director is nominated and approved. Shanower will be replacing outgoing NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy, who officially left the post on May 5. In July, Dr. Ramaswamy will become the chief executive officer of the Redmond, Washington-based Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an organization that accredits higher education institutions in the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, as well as in Canada.
“Dr. Shanower brings more than 20 years of experience in scientific research and management, and he will maintain a steady hand at the helm of NIFA,” said Dr. Jacobs-Young. “NIFA’s support of the best and brightest scientists has resulted in groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, explore new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. We salute Dr. Ramaswamy for his tireless enthusiasm at NIFA in support of agriculture-related research and education.” (MORE)
FASS Joins in Support of Ag Research
FASS continues to work through coalitions to support funding for agricultural research in the Farm Bill and the FY19 budget. This includes letters to congressional leaders as well as support of testimony. The following are recent actions in this area:
- FASS joined other members of the Friends of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis coalition, in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies strongly supporting federal investment in the FY19 budget to advance agricultural statistics and research in the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
- FASS joined 114 other organizations from the food, agriculture, scientific, academic and veterinary communities in an Animal Ag Coalition letter, to all House offices in advance of the Ag Committee markup of the Farm Bill outlining recommendations for the bill. It called on Congress to establish and fully fund a permanent three-pronged program to deliver the sufficient development and timely deployment of all measures necessary to prevent, identify, and rapidly respond to the potential catastrophic impacts that an animal disease outbreak would have on our country’s food security, export markets, and overall economic stability.
- FASS joined other organizations from the food, agriculture, scientific, academic, and veterinary communities in support of NC-FAR testimony relative to the FY19 Appropriations for the USDA REE Mission Area. It called for the following levels of funding:
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS), at least $1,350,000,000
- Economic Research Service (ERS), at least $90,000,000
- National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), at least $180,000,000
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), at least $1,667,909,000
- Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), at least $525,000,000
The additional recommended increase in the NIFA total of $200 million should be provided to NIFA leadership, with the discretion to allocate such increase to other programs, including:
- McIntire-Stennis (Research and Extension Programs), at least $40,572,000
- 1890 Extension (Extension Activities), at least $54,500,000
- Evans-Allen (Research and Education Programs), at least $64,732,000
- Hatch Act (Research and Education Programs), at least $291,138,000
- Smith-Lever (Extension Activities), at least $358,396,000
In addition, FASS joined over 20 other scientific and animal industry groups in a coalition letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in support of timely re-authorization of an enhanced Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) that includes expansion of authority for conditional approval for the new animal drugs addressing serious and life-threatening unmet medical needs for major uses in major species.
Copies of all the letters, as well as past ones, are available under the ”Coalition Letters” tab in the “Science Policy” section of the FASS website. Click here to find them.
Farm Bill News
The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018, meaning some type of action will be needed soon, either a new bill or an extension of the current law. Research has general bipartisan support in both chambers, but the legislation has many other areas that present challenges.
The House Ag committee has moved their version of the bill out of committee, but in the end it had only GOP support in the committee. Committee Chair Mike Conaway hopes to move it forward for a vote in the full House by mid-May but is having challenges in gaining support from more conservative portions of the GOP delegation as well as the Democrats, making action uncertain. The Congressional Budget Office has provided their assessment of the bill. They do indicate that it may take much more time to implement some of the SNAP provisions than estimated by legislators and also that because enacting H.R. 2 would affect direct spending and revenues, pay-as-you-go procedures apply.
The senate side is still working on language, but Committee Chair Senator Pat Roberts has indicated that he hopes to present their version on the bill this month. Bipartisan agreement will be needed as the bill will require 60 votes to pass the full Senate.
The upcoming mid-term elections limit the time that congress has to consider legislation and their willingness to take action on any controversial aspect of the bill.
A New Initiative to Highlight Science
FedByScience is a collaborative communications initiative to raise the visibility of the value of public investments in food and agricultural research. Participating universities are joining together to tell stories of compelling research with a goal of increasing funding for the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (capacity, extension, and competitive) as well as state-level research. FedByScience is directed by its Advisory Committee. SoAR provides coordination. Check it out at http://fedbyscience.org/.
FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – April
NCFAR ROC and Board Meeting
The FASS Science Policy Coordinator serves on the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NCFAR) Research Outreach Committee (ROC) and the Board. Both groups met on May 1 in Washington. A common concern raised throughout the meeting was the need to tell the story of the value and benefit of ag research, putting it in terms that both the public and legislators will understand. Several actions that seek to do this were noted:
- As noted above, the SoAR coalition recently introduced FedByScience with communication of the value of research as its objective.
- The NIFA Annual Report “User Inspired Research – Transforming Lives” features key stories that highlight research funded by NIFA. They also have a “Big Data” project, Ag Data Commons Beta, developed for sharing data between locations and making it more easily available.
- The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) does this in many ways including the Science Breakthrough 2030 project.
- NCFAR’s ROC has reached approximately 8,500 attendees over the past 13+ years through 135 “Lunch and Learn” Hill Seminars. They bring news of innovative research to Hill staff and other interested parties. Ten additional seminars are planned this year.
- There will be an Ag Research exhibit on the Hill on June 6 with 35 or 36 exhibitors sharing stories of research with members of congress and staff.
- The FASS webinar was highlighted, including the link to the recording. Several attendees had watched the webinar and were very complimentary about it.
House and Senate staff provided overviews of the Farm Bill from their perspectives. All indicated support for research but also that there was no new money available for it. Both chambers hope to move legislation forward in May but recognize challenges to doing it. Concerns noted by attendees included the following:
- The House version did not include language or funding for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).
- The Farm Bill would move nutrition education for SNAP to NIFA and extension. This is a major change if implemented and would require time and funds to get it done.
The House Ag Research Caucus was pleased to report that 88 House members had joined a letter to the Appropriations Committee in support of funding for Ag Research. This is about 30 more than last year.
- DHS plans to move control of the new NBAF facility at Kansas State University to USDA. This is the new foreign disease laboratory for the US that will replace the facility at Plum Island. A major concern is assuring that adequate budget to staff, equip, and maintain the facility comes with the transfer. It is to be operational in 2023.
- The chief scientist position is still open with no nominee identified yet. Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, director of ARS, is the Acting Chief Scientist.
- ARS currently has 1,500 positions vacant. It is reported that authorization has been given for 700 of these to be filled but the very large number of vacancies will have ongoing effects.
- Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy completed his service as director of NIFA on May 5. Dr. Thomas Shanower will begin service as acting NIFA director on May 14 as a permanent director is sought,
The “Future of Ag REE” Summit will be held in DC on May 31 and June 1. NCFAR is partnering with the Riley Memorial Foundation and others in coordination of the summit.
While in DC, the FASS Science Policy Coordinator met with staff of Representative Rodney Davis, who is co-chair of the House Research Caucus, and Senator Patrick Leahy, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He is the senior-most member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee. I provided them information about the FASS Science Policy Committee, our webinar, and our priorities for ag research funding. I invited them to contact the FASS SPC when information or input is needed about animal research. I also visited with the CEO of NASDA and shared FASS information.
For additional details, contact
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS, FASS Science Policy Coordinator
John P. McNamara, PhD, FASS SPC chair