July 28, 2015
Yesterday, we published an update on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules that FDA will be finalizing this fall. It included a recap of the rulemaking process, a timeline to keep in mind as the rules are finalized, and information on key implementation issues. This post wraps up the FSMA update with a focus on appropriations – in particular, the critical funding on the line for farmer food safety training. Read on for more.
Food Safety Education and Training
As we mentioned in our earlier post, education, outreach, and training are critical to successful FSMA implementation. Particularly for produce growers, valued-added farming operations, and small food processors – many of which have never had to comply with requirements of this nature before – outreach, education, and training are essential to help prepare for and adapt to FSMA’s impacts and requirements.
Congress recognized this need for training when writing FSMA, and authorized the creation of the new Food Safety Outreach, Education, Training, and Technical Assistance competitive grants program (FSOP) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
NSAC successfully advocated for a first-time appropriation for this program in FY 2015, and NIFA and FDA are currently working together to get this program off the ground. The program is intended to fund training and education projects that target small and mid-size farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, organic and sustainable agricultural operations, small food processors, and small fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers.
FDA and NIFA have currently designed the program to first fund one National and four Regional Centers that will establish the infrastructure for food safety trainings, but that will ultimately work directly with community- and farmer-based organizations that work with the intended beneficiaries of this program to carry out outreach and education activities and provide on-the-ground food safety trainings.
FSOP Funding for 2016
For FY 2016, the funding for this program is uncertain given the current appropriations situation. NSAC has advocated to double funding for FSOP in FY16, which would increase program funding to $5 million. This modest increase is critical, as this next round of funding is to be directed toward actual on-the-ground training projects, rather than simply the establishment of the National and Regional Centers. The Senate Appropriations Committee made this point very clear, including language in the appropriations bill report stating:
The Committee is concerned that limiting funding to one national center and four regional centers may inhibit the funding being used for on-the-ground food safety training “projects”, as authorized by [FSMA]. The Committee expects the Secretary to ensure that nonprofit community-based or non-governmental organizations, or organizations representing owners and operators of small and mid-sized farms, small food processors, or small fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers can compete for funding or subcontracts for on-the-ground food safety training projects that directly reach the targeted, intended beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, despite this strong report language, the Senate bill does not increase the overall allocation to the program. The House Appropriations Committee, on the other hand, voted to double the funding levels for FSOP to $5 million.
As House and Senate appropriators negotiate the final funding level for this program, NSAC urges them to support the Senate report language and the higher House funding level. The more funding available through this program, the more farmers and small food processors will be able to take advantage of trainings that prepare them for these new food safety requirements. Robust funding for outreach, education, and training in the early years of FSMA implementation is essential to the successful implementation of these new requirements without undue impacts on small scale farms and food businesses.
FSMA Funding Shortfall
Additionally on the appropriations front, FSMA implementation will also be driven by the appropriation FDA receives. The Congressional Budget Office initially estimated that the first five years of FSMA implementation would require an increase of $583 million over FDA’s existing budget at the time, or roughly $117 million a year in new money. Although FDA’s FSMA budget has grown each year since then, the actual funding increase provided by Congress has been hovering around the $40 million mark, plus or minus, or just slightly better than a third of the projected need.
In the pending House and Senate appropriations bills for USDA and FDA, the House bill would provide $42 million for 2016, while the Senate bill would provide $45 million. Both fall far short of the President’s 2016 budget request of $110 million and the original $117 million projection.
This amount has been declared “a joke” by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, a former Congressman. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently estimated that implementing the Produce Rule alone could cost $40 million.
We’ll be following up on these issues and more as information becomes available in the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned!
How to Help!
Want to know what you can do to support funding for farmer food safety training? There will be opportunities ahead to take action as the appropriations process unfolds, and NSAC will provide timely information on what’s happening and how to get involved.