In advance of a congressional hearing today focused on concerns that the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of food safety is dysfunctional, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf announced he is launching a “comprehensive evaluation” of the agency’s food programs.

The review will include the Office of Food Response and Policy, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, as well as some parts of the Office of Regulatory Affairs.

“While America’s food supply is safe, and our Foods program experts have significantly contributed to the availability of more nutritious food options for consumers, the program has been stressed by the increasing diversity and complexity of the nation’s food systems and supply chain,” Califf said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “Fundamental questions about the structure, function, funding and leadership need to be addressed. The agency’s inspectional activities related to the program also need to be evaluated, particularly in light of stresses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The agency also will have a review done of the Center for Tobacco Products. The Reagan-Udall Foundation will work with “an external group of experts” and deliver findings within 60 business days.

Califf is likely to be questioned about the review at today’s hearing of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee entitled, “Food Safety and the Food and Drug Administration.”

Keep in mind: The subcommittee is responsible for FDA’s annual funding. In addition to Califf, Frank Yiannas, FDA’s current deputy commissioner for food policy and response, is also testifying.

Elsewhere: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a hearing on the global food crisis, and the House Ag Committee’s farm bill hearings turn to crop insurance, which has eclipsed commodity programs in importance to row crop farmers at a time of historically high market prices. The witnesses include the CEO of AgriSompo, an Iowa-based insurance company; and a Texas insurance agent.

House votes to top up USDA, FDA funding

The House has voted to put more money into FDA to speed the approval of labeling of animal feed ingredients. The amendment was part of a block of bipartisan proposals the House OKed Tuesday during debate on a package of fiscal 2023 spending bills..

A study by Informa Economics found it takes three to five years to get an ingredient reviewed by the FDA.

The House also voted to increase funding for conservation technical assistance, USDA’s Farm to School program and other concerns.

By the way: The House rejected most GOP amendments, including a proposal by Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn., to bar the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring companies to track and disclose greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains. Demand for the disclosures “is coming from large asset managers and climate activists, not retail investors,” Rose said.

More talks to open main Ukraine ports expected this week

Negotiators representing Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations are expected to meet this week to possibly nail down a deal allowing Ukraine to export wheat, corn and other ag commodities out of its primary Black Sea ports.

“Agreed on a plan, general principles, for the transportation of grain and foodstuffs,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar says in a tweet. “We continue our efforts to turn this into a concrete implementation plan. A meeting on this is likely this week.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed optimism last week after the first round of four-party talks were held in Istanbul. “If we manage to remove the Russian threat to navigation in the Black Sea, it will remove the severity of the world food crisis,” Zelensky said. 

By the way: The U.S. Agency for International Development has pledged $100 million to help Ukrainian farmers produce and export their crops through 2023.

The agency says the program “will increase Ukrainian farmers' access to critical agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizer, equipment, and pesticides” as well as improve storage and processing capacity. USAID is seeking donors to chip in an additional $150 million.

For more on the global food crisis, plus a look at how the Biden administration can fund its ag climate agenda, read the weekly Agri-Pulse newsletter. We also look at preparations for the upcoming White House hunger conference and what railroads are doing to address service delays.

Pork checkoff rate to drop by five cents, a 12.5% decrease

USDA has formally proposed reducing the pork checkoff rate from 40 cents to 35 cents per $100 value for live animals, in line with an overwhelming vote by National Pork Board delegates.

Revenue from the checkoff is anticipated to fall $13.5 million. The amount raised for promotion and marketing in 2021 was $103.6 million. That was a 41% increase from the year before and reflected a 47% increase in live hog prices.

“Even with the proposed reduction in assessment rates, total program funds will have still increased significantly above 2020 levels owing to the ongoing increase in price levels, assuming the general market conditions of 2021 persist,” USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service said in the proposed rule being published in today’s Federal Register.  

Enviros seek controls on CAFOs

EPA should use its existing legal authority to address air and water pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations, dozens of environmental groups said in a letter to the agency Tuesday.

 “Many of our bedrock environmental protection laws — such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act — already authorize EPA to oversee emissions and discharges from CAFOs, but EPA has consistently exempted animal agriculture from standards meant to protect communities from industrial pollution,” says the letter to Administrator Michael Regan.

He said it. “As a PhD in monogastric nutrition, I understand the importance of having a regulatory framework that offers a timely and predictable path to the marketplace for feed ingredients and that can keep pace with the evolving science of animal nutrition.” - Rep. Jim Baird, R-Ind., on his amendment to increase funding for FDA reviews of feed ingredients.

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The checkoff item has been corrected to reflect that the vote was by National Pork Board delegates.