FDA Commissioner Robert Califf is due this week to reveal his response to demands that he shore up the leadership of the agency’s food programs. A coalition of industry groups and consumer advocates has been pushing Califf to hire a deputy commissioner for foods who would have line authority over all food-related programs.

But members of the coalition are bracing themselves for an announcement Tuesday that falls short of that. Mitzi Baum, CEO of the group Stop Foodborne Illness, is expecting an announcement along the lines of an outline of steps the FDA will take. If so, “there might still be opportunity for stakeholder input,” Baum says. 

Roberta Wagner, a 28-year veteran of the FDA who’s now vice president for regulatory and technical affairs for the Consumer Brands Association, says FDA’s food program needs “to be elevated within the agency. It is not on par with medical products.” That’s going to require naming a deputy commissioner for foods, she says.

For more on this week’s agenda, read our Washington Week Ahead

CBD decision throws regulatory issue to Congress

Meanwhile, criticism continued to pile up over FDA’s announcement last week of its decision that it cannot regulate CBD in food or dietary supplements. Only Congress can provide an appropriate “regulatory pathway,” the agency said, pledging to work with the Hill on a solution.

Jonathan Miller, general counsel of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said that days before FDA’s announcement his group presented agency officials with extensive data demonstrating the safety of products containing CBD at low levels.

“We expect in the coming days legislation to be reintroduced that would require FDA to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and as a food and beverage additive,” he said. “We're hopeful that will bring FDA to the negotiating table.”

But noting that FDA has said it needs new authority, he added, “if there's a need for new authorities that are reasonable, we're fine. But we don't want to create something new that's going to take years to develop, and continue to further stall the industry. That’s going to be the big challenge here.” 

Midwest AGs press for E15 waiver

Attorneys general representing seven Midwest states are pressing EPA to issue a waiver that would allow E15 to be sold in the region, starting this summer.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, the AGs note that a group of governors formally petitioned for the waiver more than 270 days ago.

“Without prompt action, there is a risk that E15 gasoline will not be available during the 2023 summer driving season and vehicle emissions will be higher than if EPA followed its obligations under the Clean Air Act,” the AGs write.

Take note: The attorneys general represent the states of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Nine states in total have sought authorization from EPA for year-round E15 use.

US soy exports spike with strong shipments to China
More than 63% of the 1.9 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans shipped out the week of Jan. 13-19 went to China, according to the latest weekly trade data out of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
After the 1.2 million tons to China, Mexico was the second largest destination, taking 228,600 tons of U.S. soybeans in the seven-day period.
China and Mexico were also destinations for U.S. corn and sorghum exports during the week. The U.S. shipped 393,800 tons of corn and 700 tons of sorghum to Mexico. China was the destination for 71,500 tons of U.S. corn and 70,800 tons of U.S. sorghum.
Ag leaders to gather in Washington to press for free trade agreements
Farm leaders will meet in Washington on Thursday to increase pressure on Congress to demand a more aggressive U.S. trade agenda that includes new free trade agreements and better access to foreign markets through lower tariffs.

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The umbrella group Farmers for Free Trade is organizing an event with members of the Corn Refiners Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Association, CoBank, North American Meat Institute, National Association of Wheat Growers, and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
“With a new Congress, new committee leaders, and newly confirmed ag trade officials at USTR and USDA in place, the U.S. ag community is taking advantage of an important moment to push for regaining a foothold in international trade,” says Farmers for Free Trade. “The United States has not completed a trade agreement that provides access to a new market in over a decade, while competitors in South America, Europe and Asia have been completing deals that preference their ag products.”
ReConnect program to see changes under new USDA rule
The Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service is hoping to streamline its ReConnect program by doing away with “outdated” requirements, according to a final rule being published today.
The rule requires applicants for ReConnect funding to register in the agency’s online System for Award Management and update their information in the database annually. It also updates the program's Buy American requirements.
They said it: “Given the importance of this issue, the undersigned attorneys general call on the (EPA) Administrator and the Office (of) Management and Budget to promulgate regulations as required by the Clean Air Act by the end of January. That deadline will allow each of the undersigned states to enjoy the cost and air-quality benefits of year-round E15 through the 2023 summer driving season.” – Seven state attorneys general in a Jan. 27 letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan and OMB Director Shalanda Young.
Philip Brasher, Bill Tomson and Noah Wicks contributed to this report.
Questions, comments, tips? Send an email to Steve Davies.