August, 2019

    September 13, 2019


    Congress has been on recess for the past month, so there have been behind-the-scenes discussions but no legislative action. Hopefully, the members of Congress have heard from and listened to their constituents during this time. Unfortunately, during their time away, the news has had more stories of mass murders, in Odessa and Midland, Texas, and in Elkmont, Alabama; concerns over the economy and the impact of the trade war; and the still-active Hurricane Dorian, which is beginning to move up the east coast. This means that when members of Congress return during the week of September 9, there will be calls to take action on gun violence, disaster relief, trade, and immigration, as well as passing budgets. All this will be taking place as politicians gear up for the 2020 elections. Here are a few of the things to come.

    The Budget Deal
    Before leaving for the August recess, the House and Senate both passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, and it was signed by the president. The comprehensive two-year deal raises spending caps and sets the top-line spending for both discretionary defense and non-defense programs at about $1.37 trillion for FY 2020, which is about $50 billion higher than the FY 2019 level. Although the overall base is set, Congress needs to pass and have signed the 12 funding measures that provide for the operation of all government agencies by September 30 or face another government shutdown. The House passed most of their individual budgets before leaving town, but the Senate passed none. With a limited number of legislative days until the budget deadline, it appears that a short-term continuing resolution will be needed to keep the government operating until all budgets can be agreed to and signed by President Trump.

    FDA to Hold Hearings
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced two hearings that are of special interest for food producers over the next two months. First, they will hold a public meeting to discuss efforts to modernize standards of identity as part the agency's Nutrition Innovation Strategy, titled Horizontal Approaches to Food Standards of Identity Modernization:

    Date and Time:   September 27, 2019 (8:30 am–5:00 pm)
    Location:   Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel and Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20872

    The purpose of this public meeting is to give interested persons an opportunity to discuss FDA’s effort to modernize food standards of identity and provide information about changes that could be made to existing standards, particularly those that could be made across categories of standardized foods (i.e., horizontal changes), to facilitate innovation and provide flexibility for the development of healthier foods.

    Important dates related to the meeting:

    • Request to make an oral comment: September 12, 2019
    • Request special accommodations due to disability: September 12, 2019
    • Advanced registration closing date: September 20, 2019
    • Deadline to submit written or electronic comments: November 12, 2019

    For more information and to register, click here.

    Second, the FDA will be holding a public meeting titled FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety:

    Date and Time:   Monday, October 21, 2019 (8:30 am–5:00 pm)
    Location:   Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel & Executive Meeting Center, 1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20872

    Additional meeting specifics, including information on how to register, will be made available in September through a Federal Register Notice and on the FDA public meetings website.

    Trade Agreements (or Lack Thereof)
    Trade talks continue on several fronts with promises of expanded agricultural purchases and additional positive results to come, but as of the beginning of September, no actual agreements have been presented for action. In the meantime, the tariff battle with China continues to escalate and exports lag, resulting in lowered farm income and increasing pressure to reach agreements.

    USDA ERS and NIFA Move
    Although overshadowed by other events, USDA continues their efforts to relocate most ERS and NIFA employees to Kansas City. In spite of congressional instructions to USDA to provide them with more economic justification for the move and an evaluation of the impact on science of the move, as well as concerns raised by the science community about the short- and long-term effects, USDA has proceeded with the move. Although still not certain, based on initial reports it is expected that 70% or more of the employees scheduled to relocate will not move. This is having effects now for USDA employees, both those who choose to move and those who do not. Researchers who apply for and receive research grants are also affected, as fewer people are available to administer grants. It appears that USDA is struggling to fill vacancies and complete reports required by law. Over 560 employees are scheduled to be relocated to Kansas City. USDA is currently seeking to fill somewhere between 50 and 90 positions, but this would appear to be far short of the number of vacancies expected. In addition, USDA is currently trying to rehire a number of retired employees on a part-time basis through the end of the year, to work in Washington and complete a number of reports that are required by law. The next months should provide a more complete view of the impact of the USDA action.

    FASS Inc. Science Policy Coordination Activities – August 2019

    The FASS Science Policy Committee is continuing to review and update the FASS Science Policy statements. They are being posted on the FASS Science Policy site as they are completed.

    During August, the science policy coordinator participated in a webinar titled “Fantastic Briefs and How to Use Them: Engaging with Policymakers, the Media, and the Public.” Speakers emphasized the importance of scientists developing relationships with members of Congress and their staff, state legislators, and the media, so that they will call on us and utilize science when legislation and regulations are being developed or when questions are raised by the public. Information like the FASS Science Policy Statements was suggested as a very useful tool when working with these groups.

    We continue to interact with other professional science groups to monitor pending action in Congress and at the USDA so that we can respond as needed.

    Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort. If you are interested in communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator