January, 2018

    February 12, 2018


    USDA–FDA Agreement to Bolster Coordination and Collaboration
    US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, recently announced a formal agreement aimed at making the oversight of food more efficient and effective by bolstering coordination between the two agencies. The formal agreement outlines efforts to increase interagency collaboration, efficiency, and effectiveness on produce safety and biotechnology activities, while providing clarity to manufacturers.

    The FDA and the USDA have worked closely over the years to oversee the nation’s food supply. The USDA oversees the safety of most meat, poultry, fish, and certain egg products, whereas the FDA has authority over all other foods, such as dairy, seafood, produce, and packaged foods. The USDA and the FDA are partnering in many key areas, including the implementation of produce safety measures and biotechnology efforts.

    The agreement is the agencies’ newest initiative to expand those efforts and take new steps to streamline regulatory responsibilities and use government resources more efficiently to protect public health. It aims to increase clarity and efficiency and potentially reduce the number of establishments subject to the dual regulatory requirements of the USDA and the FDA. The agreement tasks both government organizations with identifying ways to streamline regulation and reduce inspection inefficiencies, while steadfastly upholding safety standards for dual-jurisdiction facilities. This can reduce costs on industry and free government resources to better target efforts to areas of risk.

    The agreement also commits the USDA and the FDA to identify ways the agencies can better align and enhance their efforts to develop regulatory approaches to biotechnology, as each agency works to fulfill commitments outlined in the September 2016 National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products and the more recent Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Report. These initiatives established a vision for increasing transparency, predictability, and efficiency of the regulatory processes for biotechnology products.

    The agreement also calls for the FDA and the USDA to enhance their collaboration and cooperation on produce safety activities. The FDA is implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which shifts the food safety paradigm from one of reaction to one of prevention of foodborne illness. Under FSMA, the FDA coordinates with state or territorial government agencies, which will conduct most farm inspections under FSMA’s Produce Safety rule.

    USDA and the Farm Bill
    US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s Farm Bill and Legislative Principles for 2018 on January 24. The items have limited specificity but they do touch on each of USDA’s mission areas, including farm production and conservation; trade and foreign agricultural affairs; nutrition; marketing and regulatory programs; food safety; research, education, and economics; rural development; natural resources and environment, and management. Relative to research, education, and economics, the document says USDA will

    • Commit to a public research agenda that places the United States at the forefront of food and agriculture scientific development.
    • Develop an impact evaluation approach, including the use of industry panels, to align research priorities to invest in high priority innovation, technology, and education networks.
    • Empower public–private partnerships to leverage federal dollars and increase capacity and investments in infrastructure for modern food and agricultural science.
    • Prioritize investments in education, training, and the development of human capital to ensure a workforce capable of meeting the growing demands of food and agriculture science.
    • Develop and apply integrated advancement in technology needed to feed a growing and hungry world.

    The full four-page document is available here.

    Although the document provides initial input from USDA on their wishes for the Farm Bill, Congress is where the real action takes place. The timeframe for this is uncertain. The House Ag Committee is reported to be close to releasing their initial draft of a bill but the Senate appears to be much further away.

    Budget Situation
    After a brief three-day shutdown, the government is again operating under a continuing resolution. The current resolution expires on February 8, so either a longer-term solution or another continuing resolution will be needed by that date to prevent another shutdown. Immigration issues are a major sticking point and are reported to have House leaders preparing to try to pass another short-term fix. It should be noted that this is just for the current fiscal year that began in October. The FY 18 budget plans are even further off.

    Other News

    • New Senate Ag members: Sens. Tina Smith (D-MN) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have joined the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senate leaders announced that Smith, who was appointed to fill former Sen. Al Franken's seat, will be the second Minnesota senator on the panel, joining fellow Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Fischer, a cattle rancher and former state legislator, said she was looking forward to engaging in the Farm Bill.
    • Bill Gates does agriculture: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in conjunction with Britain's Department for International Development, is making available some $174 million for scientific research aimed at increasing agricultural efficiency, according to a Reuters article.
    • Lack of top USDA posts crippling: There is still no progress in getting top USDA officials installed. A combination of hold-ups on Capitol Hill and delays by the White House to make nominations is contributing to the problem. The USDA Chief Scientist is one of the currently open positions. There is no indication when the situation will be resolved.

    FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – January

    As noted, there has been little action on the Farm Bill or budget during the past month. The FASS Science Policy Coordinator continues to be in regular communication with other science and industry groups relative to progress on the issues. We anticipate that additional coalition letters will be forthcoming as things begin to move. Planning is underway with the FASS Science Policy Committee for a webinar later this spring. We are also in communication with NCFAR on plans for a Summit to Plan for Agriculture, Food, Health, and Natural Resource Research, Economics, Education, Extension, and Outreach. Its objective is to provide a vision for the next generation of research and education investments in agricultural and related fields. The exact date is still being determined.

    For additional details, contact
    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS, FASS Science Policy Coordinator
    E-mail: keolson@prodigy.net

    Updates from the FASS Science Policy Committee Chair

    Webinar on the impact of public and private investment in agricultural research.

    We are finalizing the webinar on the role of public and private investment in agricultural research on the US economy and jobs. We will announce the date/time and access information on all animal ag–related lists in late February or early March. The webinar is targeted to students, faculty, specialists, anyone involved in agriculture, or anyone who buys food — it will provide basic information on why ag research is important to the overall economy, not just farming! The FASS Science Policy Committee and many other agricultural research and industry organizations provide many forms of educational materials aimed at policy makers in state and federal government positions. These are clearly valuable but we have not focused as much on giving our end clients — the American citizen and especially students interested in agriculture, teachers, fellow faculty members, producers, and support people — the information they need to understand and to help others understand the major importance of public funding for agricultural research as well as the impact of private–public partnerships.

    As we prepare the webinar, please let us know what you would like to learn. We would especially like to hear from students and student groups in animal science and related departments who hope to work directly or indirectly in agricultural endeavors. Please contact the SPC chair directly at mcnamara@wsu.edu with issues, information, or concerns you would like addressed. If you work in an academic department, please let your students know about this webinar and have them write directly to the SPC chair on any issue they would like to learn more about.

    One major need that comes up in every workshop in agriculture is ensuring the “personal capital” and building human resources as well as modern infrastructure to support agricultural research, teaching, extension, and application. Olson has detailed recent activity by the USDA on these topics, and it is heartening that the Agriculture Secretary is supportive. In the first report on improving rural America, we identified over 100 actions the federal government should consider undertaking to ensure growth in America’s heartland. We organized these solutions around five key indicators: connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technological innovation, and economic development. Taken together, these proposals create a road map to reinvigorate rural America's economy and its most precious resources, its people. Each recommendation intersects with and complements the others, but the task force found one overarching need: improved high-speed internet access. To increase access to broadband in rural areas, we must incentivize private capital investment, including the use of public–private partnerships. We must also make investment in high-speed internet infrastructure more attractive by streamlining arduous review, approval, and permitting processes.