FDA Commissioner Robert Califf faces lawmakers this week amid nationwide alarm over the shortage of infant formula and continued questions about the agency’s oversight of food and agriculture.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler will also be on Capitol Hill this week. He leads a sweeping effort to push publicly traded corporations to track and report greenhouse gas emissions, including those originating from agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, meanwhile, is in Poland until Tuesday for meetings addressing the war in Ukraine after discussions over the weekend in Germany with his G-7 counterparts.
The priorities for the G-7 meeting included addressing the soaring price of fertilizer globally and curbing the imposition of export restrictions. India on Saturday announced a ban on the exporting of its wheat. Speaking to Agri-Pulse from Germany, Vilsack said the India ban is “exactly the wrong thing to do" during a global food crisis.
In Poland, Vilsack had meetings scheduled with Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Henryk Kowalczyk, European Union Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, and Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi.
Califf’s appearance on Thursday before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes the agency’s annual spending bill, comes as the administration is struggling to address the formula shortage caused in part by recalls due to a potentially deadly bacterial outbreak in an Abbott Laboratories manufacturing facility.
Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., released a whistleblower report that she said “details a culture at Abbott of falsifying records, turning a blind eye to safety and product concerns, and retaliating against any employee who brought these issues to light.”
Abbott did not respond to an inquiry when Agri-Pulse reported on the whistleblower report last month. The House Appropriations Committee will have a second hearing on the formula shortage on May 25.
A diverse coalition of agriculture, food industry and consumer groups concerned that FDA is neglecting food safety issues recently called on Califf to create a position that would have authority over food programs.
The groups said the agency needs a deputy commissioner for foods, who would have “direct line authority” over the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and food-related components of the Office of Regulatory Affairs.
The SEC's Gensler could be questioned about a proposed rule that could require corporations to report on greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains. The rule could force many publicly traded companies to start tracking the emissions from their agricultural suppliers. Experts say it would accelerate the development of standards for measuring emissions.
The American Farm Bureau Federation argues that the rule would increase producers’ costs significantly.
Also this week, EPA Administrator Michael Regan will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday and then face Senate appropriators on Wednesday. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will appear before the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday.
The Senate, meanwhile, should clear the $40 billion supplemental bill for Ukraine that the House approved last week. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked a quick vote on the measure last week, forcing the Senate to go through the slower process of a pair of procedural votes set for Monday to get to a final vote on the legislation.
Although White House proposals to add incentives for U.S. farmers were ultimately dropped from the package, it includes more than $4.3 billion in funding for food and other humanitarian assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week the package would give the agency “the ability to meet the needs of those brave Ukrainians that have remained inside their borders.” she warned of the potential “ripple effects” if the country’s markets remain closed due to a Russian blockade of its southern ports.
Fiscal issues will be on the table at the House Ag Committee on Tuesday when the panel convenes to consider budget priorities and recommendations. The committee is also scheduled to examine several bills including a bill to extend grants to small meat processors looking to expand and another bill to create a special examiner to investigate Packers and Stockyards Act violations at the Department of Agriculture.
Also this week, House Democrats will attempt to blunt voters’ concerns about inflation by voting on the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, a bill that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to take action against companies charging prices that are “unconscionably excessive” or exploitative.
“This bill would protect consumers against irresponsible actors in the oil and gas industries who would artificially inflate prices for extra profit, and it would lower the cost of gas for Americans at the gas pump,” according to the House majority leader’s office.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, May 16
4 p.m. — USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 17
9 a.m.. — House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. 2358-C Rayburn.
10:15 a.m. — House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan. 2123 Rayburn.
2 p.m. — House Ag Committee holds a business meeting to consider several bills including recommendations for the House Budget Committee.
3:30 p.m. — Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., will participate in an American Enterprise Institute event on regulation and the future of cryptocurrency assets.
Wednesday, May 18
10 a.m. — Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, 124 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. — House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing, “Climate Smart from Farm to Fork: Building an Affordable and Resilient Food Supply Chain.” 1334 Longworth.
10 a.m. — House Financial Services-General Government Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler. 2358-C Rayburn.
Thursday, May 19
8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
8:30 a.m. — The American Enterprise Institute holds its 2022 midterm election watch.
10 a.m. — House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf. 2362-A Rayburn.
10 a.m. — Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. 366 Dirksen.
11 a.m. — World Resources Institute webinar, “Cool Food: A Growing Movement for Delicious Climate Action.”
Noon — Environmental Law Institute webinar analyzing the SEC’s Climate Disclosure proposal.
3 p.m. — National Academy of Sciences webinar, “Climate Conversations: Adaptation in Agriculture.”
Friday, May 20
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