Budget writers protect meat in diet guidelines

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 - House appropriators are seeking to ensure the Obama administration doesn't use environmental factors in writing the federal dietary guidelines for meat consumption.

draft fiscal 2016 appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration includes a provision that would strictly limit the 2015 recommendations to “matters of diet and nutrient intake” and also require the guidelines to be based on the strongest level of evidence.

In a move that raised widespread concern in the meat industry, the scientific advisory panel assigned to recommend changes to the currrent guidelines said that factoring sustainability into the dietary guidelines was “essential to ensure a healthy food supply will be available for future generations.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year the 2015 guidelines would be kept focused narrowly on nutrition.

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The bill, which the subcommittee is scheduled to consider Thursday, also would delay implementation of a new FDA rule requiring restaurants, supermarket delis and convenience stores to put calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The rule is set to take effect Dec. 1. Under the bill, the requirement would be put off until Dec. 1, 2016, or until one year after FDA issues guidance to industry on following the rule.

Supermarket and pizza chains and convenience stores are seeking a broader overhaul of the rule, but there is bipartisan support for at least delaying compliance. 

The bill also delays until 2017 a new conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance.

Missing from this year's version of the appropriations bill is a broad provision that would waive some school nutrition standards for schools that can show they have been a financial hardship. The law that authorized the higher standards - the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act - is up for re-authorization this year, and Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said he would wait for that process to move forward before pursuing the waiver provision again.

The 2016 spending bill would continue a provision allowing schools to seek an exemption from the whole grain standard. The bill also would extend a provision barring a further reduction in sodium limits for school meals.

Also dropped from the House bill this year was a longstanding rider that blocked the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing new rules on the livestock industry.

The bill, which also covers the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, would cut spending on discretionary programs by $175 million from fiscal 2015 to $20.65 billion. That would be $1.1 billion below what President Obama requested. Spending on farm programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school meals and other mandatory programs would bring the total spending for fiscal 2016 to an estimated $143.9 billion.

“The engine that drives the American economy is not necessarily built in factories but grown on American farms,” Aderholt said. "This bill puts resources to work in areas that not only help farmers, ranchers and growers everywhere, but also supports rural economic development and infrastructure.”

The cut in discretionary spending would be even larger except for cuts the bill would make in conservation and energy programs. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is supposed to get $1.6 billion in fiscal 2016 under the 2014 farm bill, would be held at $1.35 billion. The Conservation Stewardship Program, which was authorized at 10 million acres a year, would be capped at 7.7 million acres.

The subcommittee also is making cuts in mandatory spending levels for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, biorefinery assistance funding, and the Rural Energy for America Program. 

Paul Winters of the Biotechnology Industry Organization said his group hoped the Senate would increase funding for BCAP, which subsidizes the cost of procuring biomass supplies for next-generation biofuels. “But we have begun hearing from companies that the uncertainty around funding and implementation of BCAP makes the program nearly unusable,” he said.

Some targeted areas at USDA and FDA would get increases, including rural development at USDA and food safety at FDA, which will soon begin implementing new regulations required by the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The bill would provide $2.5 billion for rural development, $86 million more than this year's level. The programs that would get spending increases include rural drinking water and sewage programs and rental assistance for rural housing. Rural development is a particular priority for the chairman of the full committee, Hal Rogers, R-Ky.


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