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By Casey Wooten
May 19 — Senate appropriators advanced funding legislation that would stop proposed FDA labeling rules for restaurant menus, while also requiring the makers of genetically engineered salmon to label their products.
The provisions are part of the Senate Appropriations Committee's fiscal year 2017 funding bill (not yet numbered) for the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration. The panel approved the bill on a voice vote May 19.
The bill would provide $21.25 billion in discretionary funds to the USDA and the FDA, a $250 million decline compared to the previous year.
The bill would increase spending in some areas of drug and medical device regulation (see related story in this issue).
The measure doesn't have as many policy riders as its $21.3 billion House counterpart, which cleared its appropriations committee April 19, leaving lawmakers to work out the differences in a conference committee if both bills pass their full chambers.
Leaders in both the House and Senate have not announced floor votes for either bill.
The House version would nix a proposed USDA rule reworking agreements between contract farmers and the processors who buy their livestock, known as the GIPSA rider. The bill would also prevent the FDA from issuing guidelines on reducing sodium intake until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Academy of Medicine complete a dietary reference intake study on the healthy consumption of salt (See previous story, 04/20/16).
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) authored both provisions.
The House version would also provide $3 million to “to promote the understanding and acceptance” of agricultural products made from genetically modified organisms and a provision that would eliminate certain types of FDA reviews on new tobacco products such as e-cigarettes (See previous story, 04/13/16).
Some policy provisions span both bills, however. Like its House counterpart, the Senate funding bill would delay the FDA from implementing a rule requiring chain restaurants print nutritional information on their menus.
Senate lawmakers also approved an amendment from Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) that would bar the USDA from finalizing a rule to expand the types of foods retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program must offer. That provision isn't in the House version.
Food retailers have rallied against the USDA's food stocking rule, saying it would cause convenience stores and similar retailers to drop the SNAP program (See previous story, 05/13/16).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) again offered an amendment that would require makers of genetically modified salmon to label their products as such. It's the third effort for the senator, whose state provides a large percentage of wild-caught salmon for the U.S. market.
The FDA has approved GE salmon created by Maynard, Mass.-based AquaBounty Technologies Inc. for sale and consumption, but Murkowski said the regulatory process was inadequate.
“We are concerned with how it will impact our wild-caught salmon and our stocks,” she said. “The assurances from the FDA about their safety have not been sufficient to allay the concerns that so many of us have about the first genetically engineered species designed for human consumption.”
The FDA's approval has hit legal headwinds as well, after the Center for Food Safety, Earthjustice and other organizations filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to reverse the November 2015 decision (See previous story, 04/01/16).
Panel members adopted Murkowski's amendment on a voice vote.
Biotech groups sounded off after lawmakers approved the provision.
“BIO is opposed to requiring an FDA-sanctioned label for this particular salmon product, and for all foods produced through biotechnology, simply because they were produced through biotechnology,” Brian Baenig, executive vice president of food and agriculture for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said in a statement. “The FDA has repeatedly reinforced its view that biotech foods, including salmon, are as safe to eat as conventionally produced foods, and do not require a special label.”
Murkowski also succeeded in moving an amendment that would allow only crab caught in Alaska to be labeled Alaskan king crab. Currently, Golden King Crab caught anywhere can be marketed as Alaskan king crab.
“A crab that is caught in Russian waters or a crab that is caught by others can be labeled, lawfully, as Alaskan king crab,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said her amendment is meant to avoid confusion with other species caught overseas and imported to the U.S.
Lawmakers adopted the amendment on a voice vote.
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