August 14, 2015
On August 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the availability of funding to establish two Regional Centers for food safety training, education, outreach, extension, and technical assistance. These centers will work in tandem with the yet-to-be-named National Coordination Center as part of a joint effort between the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and FDA to carry out the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) provision authorizing a new competitive grants program to fund food safety training, education, outreach, extension, and technical assistance projects targeted toward helping small and mid-sized farms and small food enterprises come into compliance with new food safety requirements.
This new grants program is intended to take an integrated approach to food safety training, and target the entities most vulnerable to the new food safety requirements; namely, small and mid-sized farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, small processors, and small fruit and vegetable wholesalers. FSMA requires that projects funded through this program work for diverse production systems – including sustainable, organic, and conservation-based systems – with an emphasis on projects that address the co-management of food safety, conservation, and environmental health.
NIFA and the FDA are jointly funding the establishment of four Regional Centers (RCs), which will follow the same Northeast, North Central, Southern, and Western delineations as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and other NIFA programs. Back in May, NIFA released an RFA to fund the Southern and Western RCs. The application window for the NIFA grants closed on June 29.
FDA’s August 10 funding announcement would fund the North Central and Northeastern Regional Centers for up to three years, at an estimated $316,666 each year. Applications are due by October 9, 2015.
Entities eligible to submit applications include:
RCs are expected to:
RCs are strongly encouraged to support training at the local and regional level through subcontracts or other resource-sharing partnerships with regional and local entities to carry out food safety outreach, education, and training programs. As the funding announcement states, “the intention of this program is to begin building an infrastructure that will support a national food safety training, education, outreach, and technical assistance system and provide significant opportunities for funding through subcontracts and for partnerships with eligible stakeholder groups, including [CBOs and NGOs].”
Accordingly, RC Project Teams must include and actively engage NGOs and CBOs in the RC plans and activities; these must be significant partnerships, demonstrated by, for example, the subcontracting of funds to carry out the development of educational materials and the implementation of training programs. In fact, eligible projects will “provide significant funding opportunities through subcontracts to or partnerships with eligible stakeholders that work directly with the target audience.”
NSAC strongly supports this requirement, which is essential to ensuring that farmers and small food businesses receive appropriately-tailored information and training to help them comply with new food safety rules from trusted, local sources.
Additional Investments in Food Safety Training Needed
This RFA marks just the beginning of the critical public investment in food safety outreach, education, and training for farmers and food entrepreneurs. Subsequent investments, like the $5 million request for food safety training and outreach in the President’s FY 2016 budget and currently contained in the House appropriations bill, must be sustained and grow to ensure that farmers and food businesses have the tools and resources they need to prepare for and adapt to the new FSMA landscape.
For FY 2016, the funding for this program is uncertain, as neither the House or Senate have yet to pass their respective funding bills before the September 30th deadline. NSAC has advocated to double funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program in FY 2016, 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.
It is our hope that – consistent with the explicit directions from Congress in the FSMA authorization for this program, and in the recent statement from Senate appropriators — beginning in FY 2016, with the basic infrastructure established, USDA and FDA will administer the training program as a competitively awarded grant program to fund training projects at the local, state, and regional level.