WASHINGTON, July 15, 2015 - The Senate version of the fiscal 2016 spending bill for USDA and FDA seeks to ensure that the Obama administration won’t use environmental factors in writing the new dietary guidelines.

However, the bill doesn’t go as far as the House Agriculture and Labor-HHS spending bills would do in restricting what evidence the administration can use in writing the recommendations. The House bills would bar any new recommendations that aren’t supported by evidence rated as “strong” under USDA scientific guidelines. 

The Senate provision, which is identical to language in the Senate Labor-HHS spending bill, says the new guidelines should be “solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.”

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the bill “reins in regulatory overreach … by limiting the scope of the dietary guidelines.” Senate Appropriations Democrats said the provision would “prevent the dietary guidelines from providing common sense recommendations.”

With the exception of the dietary guidelines provision, Moran kept the bill largely free of controversial policy riders in order to maintain Democratic support.

The text of the Senate bill, which the subcommittee approved Tuesday, hasn’t been released, but it omits any language to provide schools relief from child nutrition standards, Moran says. The House bill continues the fiscal 2015 waiver authority for a requirement on use of whole-grain foods.

Moran expects the full Appropriations Committee to debate a school nutrition waiver when it marks up the Ag bill on Thursday. The committee is also likely to consider extending the ban on slaughter of horses. An attempt to add the ban to the House bill failed on a 24-24 vote.

There also is likely to be an amendment considered in full committee to thwart's USDA’s plan to allow imports of fresh beef from regions of Brazil and Argentina. A House provision would delay imports until USDA does further study on the potential risk from foot and mouth disease. 

Here are some of the other key provisions:

·         Enforcement of the menu labeling requirement for restaurants, supermarket delis and convenience stores would be delayed one year to Dec. 1, 2016, consistent with an extension announced recently by FDA. The House bill is slightly different. It would push the deadline to Dec. 1, 2016 - or until one year after FDA issues guidance to industry on how to comply with the rule.
·         Like the House bill, the legislation would bar USDA’s Farm Service Agency from closing local offices.
·         FDA would receive an additional $45 million in fiscal 2016 to implement the new rules required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The House bill would provide a $41.5 million increase. The White House asked for $109 million more. 
·         In a landmark move, the Senate bill earmarks $10 million in international food aid funding for overseas commodities purchases, or “local and regional procurement” (LRP). The 2014 farm bill authorized up to $80 million for such purchases, but Congress didn’t approve any LRP funding for fiscal 2015. The fiscal 2016 House bill has no LRP funding either.
·         The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive the same amount of money as fiscal 2015. The House bill would increase AFRI to $335 million.
·         Unlike the House bill, the Senate version wouldn’t delay the effective date of the removal of FDA approval for partially hydrogenated oils. An amendment to the House bill would delay the removal of the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) status until the end of a three-year transition period. The delay is intended to protect food companies from lawsuits.
·         The Senate bill omitted some requirements in the House legislation to increase animal care standards for USDA research facilities. The House bill would withhold 5 percent of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) funding for 2016, or $56 million, until the agency takes certain steps in the wake of reports of past abuse at the Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including certifying that it has implemented improvements in care. Moran said the Senate appropriators omitted the ARS provision in favor of waiting to see the findings of an inspector general’s report due soon.
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