President Obama’s administration recently released its Regulatory Plan, which lays out department-specific regulatory priorities. Of interest to the food and agriculture industry are the agendas from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), both of which have regulatory oversight of, and administer programs important to, the industry.
Many of the priorities listed by USDA are related to implementation of the Agricultural Act of 2014, known as the 2014 Farm Bill. Others, however, are unrelated to the implementation of legislation.
Notably, USDA will continue to undertake its review of the framework for regulation of genetically engineered (GE) organisms. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will publish a proposed rule to revise and streamline its regulations of GE organisms to balance oversight and risk and incorporate the best available science. Industry is hopeful this will streamline the process for approval of new biotechnology traits and other such products for introduction into domestic markets. Other notable activities by USDA include:
- School Nutrition: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will publish three final rules related to implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — one on nutrition standards for foods sold in school outside of school meal programs, such as vending machines; another to align meals served in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and a final one requiring educational agencies participating in the school meal programs to develop a local school wellness policy.
- Risk Management: The Risk Management Agency (RMA) is developing a final rule to amend the general administrative regulations governing Catastrophic Risk Protection Endorsement, Area Risk Protection Insurance and the basic provisions for Common Crop Insurance consistent with the changes mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is currently developing a final rule to specify the requirements for a person to be considered actively engaged in farming for the purpose of payment eligibility for certain farm programs.
- Conservation: FSA is currently developing a final rule to implement changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and clarifying provisions associated with Animal Feeding Operations (AFO). FSA is also developing a final rule to codify conservation compliance, which links conservation practices to crop insurance coverage. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is developing a final rule to implement the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and another final rule to implement changes to the administration of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), including limiting eligible land.
Generally, FDA will continue activities related to implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which it began in earnest in early 2013, and to its regulation of food labeling. Priorities listed by FDA include:
- FSMA: FDA will continue promulgating final rules required under FSMA. Final rules on sanitary transportation of human food and animal feed, and on mitigation strategies to protect food against intentional adulteration, are expected in March and May of 2016, respectively. The agency recently released rules on preventive controls for human food and animal feed, foreign supplier verification programs, certification of third-party food safety auditors, and produce safety.
- Nutrition Facts: The agency will issue two final rules to revise the Nutrition Facts panels on packaged foods, including appearance-related changes such as font and formatting; new requirements to disclose nutrient contents such as added sugars, potassium and vitamin D; and revisions to serving size requirements to reflect the amounts people currently eat.
- Tobacco: FDA plans to issue new tobacco regulations, including proposing requirements that govern the methods used in the pre-production design, manufacture, packing and storage of tobacco products; a proposed rule that would establish a process for submitting applications for new tobacco products; and finalizing the “deeming rule,” to help determine whether products meeting the statutory definition of “tobacco product” should also be regulated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Both USDA and FDA will largely continue to implement landmark laws for the food and agriculture industry — mainly, the 2014 Farm Bill and FSMA. Final rules set to be issued have generally been preceded by proposed and interim rules, so the activities laid out in these statements reflect the agency’s intent to make final changes based on feedback to prior proposals, simply a continuation of these processes. These statements of priority do not reflect a drastic departure from the activities in prior years.