EPA’s spending bill approved last month continued to fund the agency at a level well above the Trump administration’s request, providing $9.24 billion for fiscal 2021, just $180 million above fiscal 2020 but 29% higher than the administration’s budget request.

But in addition to the money, Congress provided direction for the agency’s priorities in the coming fiscal year on a wide range of subjects, including nutrient pollution and pesticides.

For example, EPA was directed to brief House and Senate appropriators “on the potential impacts of pesticide use on regenerative agriculture and pollinators and other insects, wildlife, and water quality in the regenerative agriculture process.” Such directives are included in reports that accompany the legislation. Report language is intended to influence administration decisions without tying the agencies' hands in law. 

The appropriations bill also urges EPA to continue with a Spanish-language radio outreach program to educate farmworkers and pesticide handlers about improving worker safety when applying pesticides, saying it had “materially improved farmworkers' knowledge and ability to reduce exposure risks for themselves and their families.”

Given concerns about the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, EPA was directed to coordinate with USDA, Gulf states, “and other state, local, and private partners to leverage greater resources toward conservation projects on working-lands within the Gulf Region and Mississippi River Basin.”

Significantly for livestock operations, the funding agreement scraps previous report language urging EPA to prioritize development of models to estimate air emissions from animal feeding operations.

Instead, the report directs EPA “to study new and innovative lagoon and sprayfield waste management systems, including biodigesters and methane recapture systems on animal waste lagoons, and whether these or other methods and technologies can help mitigate health or environmental impacts on communities living near swine and dairy farms.” 

EPA was told to submit the study to appropriators within 180 days.

The bill keeps in place prohibitions on the use of funds “to promulgate or implement any regulation requiring the issuance of [Clean Air Act] permits for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions” or to adopt regulations requiring mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

Regarding the Food and Drug Administration, Congress has directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide a report on the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, specifically examining whether the latest DGA process followed recommendations in a 2017 NASEM report that sought to make the process more scientifically transparent. The report must be prepared within 12 months.

On regulation of cannabidiol, or CBD, FDA was directed to work with the Office of Management and Budget to issue policy guidance “in a timely manner” regarding enforcement discretion. The agreement also “encourages FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.”

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Appropriators said they remain concerned about “the proliferation of products marketed using standards of identity for dairy products that do not contain dairy ingredients. The agreement directs FDA to provide clarity around the appropriate naming of plant-based dairy alternatives” within 90 days “on steps taken to enforce against such alternatives.”

On added sugars, the spending agreement says appropriators are worried about “potential consumer confusion” over nutritional labeling requirements and guidelines for added sugar for single ingredient products like maple syrup and honey, “where sugar is naturally occurring in the product rather than added to the product.”

Within 60 days of the date the act was signed — Dec. 27, 2020 — FDA was directed to submit a report to the appropriations committees updating its June 2019 guidance on added sugars.

“The report shall include multiple examples of factual and non-misleading statements describing the applicable percent daily value of sugar added to one's diet that can be used by producers and processors of honey, maple syrup, other single-ingredient sugars and syrups, and certain cranberry products as optional explanatory statements to inform consumers of the meaning of this component of the nutrition facts panel,” the agreement says.

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