Food industry and consumer groups are urging the Senate to consider the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) before Congress recesses for the fall elections. In a letter to the Senate leadership, the groups stated, “Strong food-safety legislation will reduce the risk of contamination and thereby better protect public health and safety, raise the bar for the food industry, and deter bad actors.” The legislation establishes a risk-based approach to inspection, improves traceability, requires food companies to develop a food safety plan, and improves the safety of imported food and ingredients. Groups signing the letter included American Beverage Association, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food Marketing Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Restaurant Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The House of Representatives passed FDA food safety reform legislation last year.
Improving Corn-Ethanol Energy Efficiency — A new USDA report, “2008 Energy Balance for the Corn-Ethanol Industry,” indicates the net energy gain from converting corn to ethanol is improving in efficiency. The report measured all conventional fossil fuel energy used in the production of one gallon of corn ethanol. According to the report, ethanol has made the transition from an “energy sink (more energy used than energy produced), to a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, to a substantial net energy gain in the present. The net energy balance of corn ethanol has increased from 1.76 BTUs to 2.3 BTUs of required energy since the last study was completed in 2004.
Senate Ag Committee Blasts EPA — The Senate Agriculture Committee recently held a hearing entitled, “Examine the Impact of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulation on Agriculture.” The loud-and-clear message from committee members to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was that the agency seems focused on “over-regulating” farmers and ranchers. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), chair of the committee, said that farmers and ranchers are “increasingly frustrated and bewildered by vague, overreaching and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulation.” She cited specific threats, including EPA’s spray drift proposal, settling Clean Water Act lawsuits without farmer participation, requiring emissions controls for biomass energy facilities, requiring Clean Water Act permit for pesticide applications and dust regulation. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) said that EPA gives “lip service” to agriculture and many of the proposed regulations will hurt smaller producers. Jackson agreed to work more closely with the Senate and House Agriculture committees. She also said that all sides of the dust rule will be considered before EPA makes any decision. And, she expects the agency to make a decision on the E-15 ethanol proposal in October.
Senate Confirms Woteki, Hagen and Thompson — The Senate confirmed the nominations of Dr. Catherine Woteki as USDA. Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen as USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, and Jill Long Thompson as a member of the Farm Credit Administration. Woteki previously served as the first Under Secretary for Food Safety. She was Dean of Agriculture at Iowa State University from 2002-2005, and mostly recently served as Global Director of Scientific Affairs for Mars, Inc. Hagen served as USDA’s Chief Medical Officer at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Thompson served as USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development in the Clinton administration. She was a member of the House Agriculture Committee in the 1990s.
P. Scott Shearer