NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – November 23, 2009

December 2, 2009


Comments Due Today on the Rural  Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP): Comments are due today, November 23rd, on the proposed rule for the new Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).  RMAP was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide loans and grants to Micro-enterprise Development Organizations (MDOs) that support micro-enterprise development in rural areas.  While the law directs USDA to provide grants to allow development organizations to offer training and technical assistance to micro-entrepreneurs the proposed rule fails to do so.  Training and technical assistance are essential to the success of these new businesses.  An NSAC alert with talking points can be found here. Comments can be submitted here.   The Center for Rural Affiairs is circulating this sign-on comment letter.   To sign on, contact  Steph Larsen at StephL@cfra.org 

Senate HELP Approves Food Safety Act:  On Wednesday, November 18, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved a revised version of S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Senate floor action is considered likely early next calendar year, though no one is entirely ruling out floor action yet in December.  The House has already passed its companion bill, so once the full Senate takes action the House and Senate will conference to work out the wide ranging differences between the two bills.

A bipartisan, modified version of S. 510 was presented to the Committee early last week by Chairman Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Enzi (R-WY), after having been negotiated under the auspices of Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Gregg (R-NH).  The newly revised version includes several key planks from the NSAC position paper and legislative proposal:

  • In the fruit and vegetable (produce) standards section of the bill, the new language requires coordination between FDA and USDA, rather than merely requiring FDA to consult with USDA.  The coordination specifically includes the National Organic Program.

Also in the fresh produce section, FDA is instructed to create rules that:

  • are flexible and appropriate to the scale and diversity of the farm,
  • take into consideration conservation and environmental standards established federal conservation, wildlife, and environmental agencies,
  • not include requirements that conflict or duplicate organic standards,
  • prioritize for implementation rules for crops that have been associated with foodborne illness

In the traceability section, the bill was amended to restrict recordkeeping for produce farms (with the exception of produce farms that also have processing facilities) to information about the initial sale to the first purchaser of the crop.

Senators involved in obtaining one or more of these provisions included Harkin, Enzi, Bennet, Bingaman, Brown, Burr, Franken, Merkley, and Sanders.

Many other NSAC proposals were not included in the bill, including:

  • A narrowing of the definition of farm “facility” to exempt farms doing value-added processing of low-risk foods and targeting small and mid-sized farms with value-adding enterprises for a training-based food safety apparatus rather than industrial-style regulation.
  • A national training program for farms and small processors, previously introduced as a separate bill known as the Growing Safe Food Act (see story below).
  • Instructions to FDA to make new “good agricultural practice” guidance scale appropriate, pro diversification, and consistent with conservation and organic standards.
  • An instruction to FDA to do public notice and comment rulemaking on “animals of significant risk” with respect to pathogens of concern for food safety, rather than the bill’s current instruction that FDA rules should prevent “animal encroachment” with no reference to risk factors.
  • An exemption from traceability requirements for direct farmer to consumer, store, or restaurant sales or farm identity-preserved labeling sales.

Only four amendments were accepted during markup, all without debate.  Two were by Senator Burr (R-NC), including one co-sponsored by Senator Bennet (D-CO) to require FDA to do several outreach sessions to farmers and small businesses on the new set of “good agricultural practices” to be developed by FDA.  The other two were by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) on fishery guidance and a food transportation study, who also co-sponsored a Burr amendment on alcohol wholesalers.

Among the amendments introduced but withdrawn were amendments on comprehensive traceability (Sen. Brown), antibiotic resistance (Sen. Reed), country of origin labeling for processed fish (Sen. Murkowski), country of origin labeling for processed food (Sen. Brown, Merkley), infant formula health claims (Sen. Merkley), restitution payments for farmers harmed economically by FDA mistakes (Sen. Hagan), and confidentiality of records provided to FDA (Sen. Roberts).  Some of these amendments may be revisited during floor consideration of the bill.

NSAC’s press release issued immediately following markup can be viewed here.

Growing Safe Food Act Picks Up Additional Sponsors:  The NSAC-endorsed Growing Safe Food Act (S. 2758), introduced by Senator Stabenow (D-MI), was co-sponsored last week by Senator Brown (D-OH) and Casey (D-PA).  The bill, which would establish a national food safety training and technical assistance competitive grants program to be housed at USDA, is also co-sponsored by Senators Bingaman, Boxer, Gillibrand, Leahy, Merkley, and Sanders.  NSAC is urging all Senators to endorse the bill and is pushing for its incorporation into S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act, when it comes to the Senate floor.

Child Nutrition Act Discussion Begins:  On Tuesday, November 17, the Senate Agriculture Committee held its first hearing on reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.  New Committee Chair Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) welcomed Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and a panel of witnesses from Arkansas.  The Child Nutrition Act reauthorizes the National School Lunch and Breakfast, Summer and Afterschool Programs, the Child and Adult Care Program and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. 

Secretary Vilsack said that the Administration’s priorities are to reduce barriers to participation and improve the nutritional quality of food served.  The hearing came a day after USDA published a report reflecting a sharp increase in childhood hunger in the U.S., meaning many more people are now eligible for these programs.

The merits of farm to school programs were mentioned several times by Sen. Lincoln and Secretary Vilsack, who pointed out that buying from local or regional producers increases the taste and nutritional value of the food and does not always mean higher food costs for schools.  Senators Lugar (R-IN) and Grassely (R-IA) commented on a study reporting that 75 percent of American 17 to 24 year olds are unable to serve in the military due to a number of reasons including obesity, making it a national security issue as well as a health concern.


NSAC Comments on Interstate Shipment of Meat & Poultry Rule:  On Monday, November 16, NSAC submitted comments on the proposed rule of USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) to implement the cooperative federal-state program for the interstate shipment of state-inspected meatestablished in Section 11015 of the 2008 Farm Bill.  Under the program, states can agree with USDA to have an FSIS designated employee coordinate meat and poultry inspections done by state inspectors in small and very small processing establishments.  Eligible establishments are to have, on average, 25 or fewer employees.  NSAC supported this Farm Bill measure with a view to increasing the number of meat and poultry processing facilities available to small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers who want to access interstate markets.

NSAC comments emphasized the need for FSIS to implement a streamlined program with regulatory requirements appropriate to ensure that small or very small processing establishments meet food safety requirements.  Our comments also addressed the need for outreach and training by FSIS, including training on humane methods of animal transport, handling and slaughter.

Organic Research Funds Available:  On Wednesday, November 18, USDA released the 2010Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), USDA’s flagship research program dedicated to organic agriculture and an NSAC research priority.  The 2010 RFA includes a new proposal type for eXtension proposals to ensure the transfer of information to farmers and others.  For 2010, approximately $19 million are available through OREI, and the deadline for applications is February 9, 2010.    

Specialty Crop Research & Extension Funding:  On Wednesday, November 18, Secretary Vilsackannounced the award of over $46 million dollars in funding through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). “Specialty crops are an important part of American agriculture, valued at nearly $50 billion every year,” Vilsack said.  The SCRI will fund projects at 20 institutions where investigators will be researching the threats and solutions to issues which effect specialty crop production such as pest and disease control.  The SCRI was established by the 2008 Farm Bill to improve specialty crop production through the study of five issue areas: plant breeding and genetics; pests and disease; improvement to efficiency, production and profitability; new innovations and technology; and improvement to food safety.

Community Food Grant Awards:  USDA announced more than $5 million in Community Food Project (CFP) grants to link producers with low-income consumers and improve local food systems throughout the U.S.  Congratulations to NSAC members Center for Rural Affairs (NE) and Farm to Table (NM) on their new awards. The Center for Rural Affairs received a planning grant to look at access to food in a small remote town that has been without a grocery store for over ten years with an 80 mile round trip to a grocery store.  They will evaluate what local foods are available; determine if a student-run grocery store addresses the need identified; and create a comprehensive plan to ensure longterm food  access to food.  


EPA Grants for Environmental Education:  EPA is currently taking applications for Environmental Education Grants from any local education agency, college or university, state education or environmental agency, non-profit organization, or noncommercial educational broadcasting entities.  Applications must be mailed to the EPA offices designated in the application instructions and be postmarked by December 15, 2009. 

The purpose of the grants is to support environmental education projects that enhance the public’s awareness, knowledge, and skills to help people make informed decisions that affect environmental quality.  EPA awards grants each year based on funding appropriated by Congress.  Annual funding for the program ranges between $2 and $3 million.  Most grants will be in the $15,000 to $25,000 range, with a matching requirement of 25% non-federal funding.  Many grants have been awarded to projects that involve agricultural practices affecting water quality, wildlife habitat, air quality and other resources.  Application materials, a comprehensive description of previously funded grants, and other information is posted on the EPA website for the grant program. 


ERS Releases Buy-Out, Debt Financing, and Ethanol Reports:  On Monday, November 16, USDA’s Economic Research Service issued a 50-page report on the experience of the peanut and tobacco sectors following the government-sponsored quota buyouts earlier this decade.  The same day, ERS also released a 45-page report with an additional 20 pages of charts on the changing debt financing landscape of the farm and farm business sector.  On Wednesday, November 18, ERS issued a 50-page report on ethanol, including shifts in land use, increases in corn acreage, impacts on meat prices, and environmental impacts from land use change and the use of crop residues for ethanol production.

Categories: General Interest

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