On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony from FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) noted that, “Over the past four years, FDA has been given significant new responsibilities through the Food Safety Modernization Act, menu labeling legislation, and drug compounding legislation.
“When implementing these laws, FDA must avoid the trappings of ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. Small businesses suffer under this practice all too frequently because they have limited capital to respond to significant new requirements and little time to implement these changes.”
Chairman Moran added that, “The agency’s final rule on menu labeling is overly broad and inflexible and lacks a great deal of business practicality. I was disappointed to see the inclusion of grocery stores, convenience stores, and other entities that do not sell restaurant style food as their primary business.
“Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA is tasked with implementing the most sweeping changes to food safety laws in over 70 years. I was pleased that the Agency took many of the concerns within the agricultural community into account by re-proposing significant portions of the rules because they were unworkable for farmers. With the court-mandated deadlines for finalization approaching, I encourage FDA to consider deliberate and thoughtful implementation of the law.”
A news release on Thursday from Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) indicated that, “During a Senate Agriculture Appropriations hearing Tester called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better identify the ingredients that are in food. With the commitment that the FDA would improve food safety without burdening small producers, Tester voiced his support for the $300 million increase for food safety included in the Administration’s budget request.
“‘Folks deserve to know what ingredients are in their food-which ingredients are good for them and which are going to kill them,’ Tester told FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. ‘I want to support your efforts to keep our food safe, but we need to do it in a way that meets the needs of producers and consumers.’”
— Jerry Moran (@JerryMoran) March 12, 2015
During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Moran had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report: “In regard to dietary guidelines, what role will FDA have in advising the Department of Health & Human Services?”
Dr. Margaret Hamburg: “Well, the dietary guidelines, at least as I understand it, it is a process that ultimately involves decision-making that is coordinated between the Secretary of Health & Human Services and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture of USDA. FDA does play a role in reviewing reports and information that goes into the final determinations, and we of course bring our science-based approaches to our recommendations in terms of nutrition science and health.”
Sen. Moran: “What’s the status of that process now at the Department of Health & Human Services and your role?”
Dr. Hamburg: “I believe that there’s a report that is currently under review that was developed by a group of outside scientific experts, and we, like other components of HHS, have been asked to review that report and make comments for the Secretary.”
And Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guidelines issue: “As you know, Montana is a large producer in ag. It’s our number one industry, $5 billion a year, and maintaining a high quality food supply is of paramount importance for our producers. And Montana agriculture plays an important role in the diets of Montanans, for Americans across the country, and even around the world.
“And a question I had really relates to some of the dietary guidelines. And specifically, in the FY15 omnibus, there was a congressional directive that expressed concern that the Advisory Committee was, quote, ‘showing an interest in incorporating environmental factors into their criteria,’ and directed the Secretary to include, and I quote, ‘only nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors in the final guidelines.’
“Well, as you know, the scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committees was just released last month. It included, and I quote, ‘environmental approaches are needed to complement individual based efforts to improve diet and reduce obesity and other diet related diseases.’ So the question I have is, do you think the advisory committee report is compliant with the congressional directive?”
Dr. Hamburg: “Well, as I think you probably know, our role in this is not a direct one, but it’s advisory to the Secretary of Health & Human Services in terms of reviewing materials, including the report you mentioned, that then become the basis for decision-making by the Secretary of HHS and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Our role is really to provide feedback in terms of the science of nutrition and health.
“And the broader issues that you were referring to I think were reflected in a report that was done by an outside group of scientists, but in terms of what we’ll be commenting on to the Secretary of Health & Human Services will be on nutrition science and health. And I think that, you know, my understanding is that, you know, at the end of the day the decisions that are made will really focus on the dietary guidelines that are science [based]—”
Sen. Daines: “Doctor, do you believe the environmental issues are within the purview of developing those dietary guidelines?”
Dr. Hamburg: “Well, you know, from the FDA perspective, as I said, that is not something that we are looking at. And my understanding is that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health & Human Services understand their role in terms of establishing the dietary guidelines.”
Sen. Daines: “Okay.”
Also on Thursday, a news release from Chairman Moran noted that, “Today, [Sen. Moran] and 29 of his Senate colleagues called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell to stay within statutory guidelines, consider the most relevant nutrition scientific literature, and reject the committee’s inconsistent conclusions and recommendations regarding the role of lean red meat in a healthy diet.
“In a letter led by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), they request an extension of the 45-day comment period to ensure stakeholders have enough time to review and comment on the lengthy report.”
Lydia Wheeler reported on Thursday at The Hill Online that, “The North American Meat Institute has a message for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – ‘Get your hands off my hot dog.’
“The meat and poultry trade association is calling all hot dog, sausage, bacon and salami lovers to sign a petition on change.org, which asks the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to include meat as part of a healthy diet in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
Note that Dr. Hamburg was also asked about the Dietary Guidelines at House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee hearing earlier this month- details on that hearing can be found here.