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Federal News

FDA Takes Important New Steps to Strengthen Oversight of Food Imports

FDA | Posted on February 1, 2018

First, the FDA announced that it has recognized the first accreditation body under the voluntary Accredited Third-Party Certification Program created by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).The organization being recognized is ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB), an organization jointly owned by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society for Quality (ASQ) based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This organization is being recognized because it met the applicable FDA requirements, validated through application review and on-site assessment. FDA is recognizing ANAB for a five year term of recognition. Accreditation bodies recognized by FDA will have the authority to accredit third-party certification bodies, also known as third-party auditors. These certification bodies, once accredited, can conduct food safety audits and issue certifications of foreign food facilities (including farms) and the foods – both human and animal – that they produce.Second, FDA has also launched the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP), a voluntary fee-based program which offers expedited review and entry of human and animal food into the United States. Importers interested in participating in VQIP will be required to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include ensuring the facilities of their foreign supplier are certified under the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.

A review of the White House infrastructure plan

Strong Towns | Posted on February 1, 2018

Half of the undisclosed amount of money (widely believed to be in the $200 billion range) would go into something called the Infrastructure Incentives Initiative. This has all the hallmarks of the worst of federal infrastructure spending: anything infrastructure-related is eligible, any government or public authority can apply, scoring is heavily weighted to induce local governments to take on lots of debt and there is only faint concern for long term maintenance costs or return on investment. Yuck! But the plan has one provision that changes all of this: Grant awards can’t exceed 20% of total project costs. Wow! I’ve been on projects where the federal government paid 95% — an approach ripe with all the worst kinds of perverse incentives — but that won’t happen here. For a state or local government to get the federal money, they will need to have some serious skin in the game to the tune of 80% of the funding. If that provision makes it through Congress (count me doubtful), it would be transformative.With state and local governments picking up 80% of the tab, I suspect projects will naturally gravitate towards those of the smaller maintenance variety, particularly projects that have a positive return on investment (small, underground, and in older neighborhoods). It’s harder to convince yourself that a negative-returning expansion project makes sense when you are spending your own money (and robbing from your already insolvent maintenance budget to do so). This dramatically reduces the worst incentives associated with federal infrastructure spending.

NAFTA talks set to continue as Canada and the U.S. trade barbs

Toronto Star | Posted on February 1, 2018

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stood on a red-velvet covered box to reach the microphone and fixed her gaze on the back of the room as President Donald Trump’s crusty trade ambassador Robert Lighthizer took swipe after swipe at what he described as unacceptable Canadian trade positions.Then Freeland fired back.If the U.S. wanted to settle its differences on softwood lumber, or on any other points of dispute, it could come to the negotiating table and talk.Canada is “still interested in finding innovative compromises,” she said.“Our job is not to cause the dismantling of cross-border supply chains that have made our industry the envy of the world. It is not to introduce more-or-less permanent uncertainty into our investment business climate. It is not to weaken North American competitiveness, when we should be building it up.”Freeland directly challenged Lighthizer on Monday to live up to what she later called his “rhetoric” and negotiate a deal.

USDA, FDA Announce Formal Agreement to Bolster Coordination and Collaboration

USDA | Posted on February 1, 2018

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. announced at the White House today a formal agreement aimed at making the oversight of food more efficient and effective by bolstering coordination between the two agencies. The formal agreement outlines efforts to increase interagency collaboration, efficiency and effectiveness on produce safety and biotechnology activities, while providing clarity to manufacturers. “Today, Commissioner Gottlieb and I signed a formal agreement to promote coordination and the streamlining of capacities and obligations on shared concerns and jurisdiction,” said Secretary Perdue. “Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act and assigned responsibilities to the USDA and the FDA. The USDA has the knowledge and expertise to support the FDA’s work related to farming. We at the USDA have a motto: Do Right, and Feed Everyone. We believe this joint effort will help us move one step closer to that goal.”

When It Comes To Farm Bill Politics, The Lines Blur

KUNC | Posted on February 1, 2018

Partisan politics may meet its match in the 2018 farm bill. The massive legislation, versions of which will be introduced this spring in the U.S. House and Senate, is shaping up to be less about political affiliations and more about finding common ground.Bonds also are being forged among interest groups and lobbyists, conservative, liberal and anything in between. The issues vary — agriculture research funding, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), beginning farmers and ranchers support — but the act of coming together is now just the nature of the beast, says Greg Fogel, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

State of Infrastructure

DTN | Posted on February 1, 2018

Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the Center for American Progress, said the president's speech offered no new details."Creating a private equity bonanza for Wall Street will mean higher taxes, tolls, and user fees for working -- and middle-class -- Americans," DeGood said in a news release.The Trump plan calls for about $200 billion in federal dollars invested, to spark public/private partnerships to fund some $1.5 trillion in improvements.DeGood said the plan would lead to increases in state and local taxes and user fees, while shifting the cost burden to states and cities.In addition, Trump called for cutting the permitting time for road and bridge projects from about 10 years to one or two years as a way to speed up improvements.

NAFTA talks that were supposed to end last year might continue into 2019

The Washington Post | Posted on January 30, 2018

Talks aimed at reaching a new trade agreement involving the United States, Canada and Mexico are expected to continue for months beyond a March 31 deadline and could even extend into 2019, according to industry executives and others close to the negotiations. The delay means that the contentious three-way bargaining — involving lucrative markets and issues of national sovereignty — may collide with elections later this year in both Mexico and the United States. For now, the American threat to abandon the talks appears to have receded. But none of the main stumbling blocks have been resolved, leaving substantial work for subsequent meetings that are tentatively planned in Mexico City at the end of February and in Washington the following month.

USDA releases it's 2018 farm bill principles

USDA | Posted on January 30, 2018

The summary of principles are largely broad in scope and would leave much of the nuts and bolts of a farm bill up to Congress. USDA wants a "fiscally responsible" farm bill that reflects the Trump Administration's budget goals. USDA also wants to reduce the regulatory burdens on USDA customers as well. Perdue said the principles come after traveling to more than 30 states to hear from people in agriculture.USDA's farm bill concepts call for "a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress without distorting markets or increasing shallow loss payments."

U.S. EPA reverses policy on 'major sources' of pollution

Reuters | Posted on January 30, 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is withdrawing a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires a major source of pollution like a power plant to always be treated as a major source, even if it makes changes to reduce emissions. The decision to withdraw the “once-in always-in” policy is part of President Donald Trump’s effort to roll back federal regulations and was sought by utilities, the petroleum industry and others. Sources of air pollution previously classified as “major sources” may be reclassified as “area” sources when the facility limits its emissions below “major source” thresholds, the EPA said. Area sources are subject to less strict pollution control standards than major sources.“It will reduce regulatory burden for industries and the states, while continuing to ensure stringent and effective controls on hazardous air pollutants,” Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a statement.

Business GOP lawmakers condemn Trump’s tariff decision ahead of NAFTA talks

The Washington Post | Posted on January 30, 2018

Republican senators on Wednesday condemned President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on washing machines and solar panels, exposing simmering GOP divisions over international trade that threaten the uneasy alliance between the president and lawmakers of his own party. “I don’t agree with it, I think it’s a bad path to head down,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the tariff decisions. “The retaliatory tariff fight is never a good fight and I generally think we need to be more positive about our trade opportunities.”The lawmakers said the tariffs could start a trade war that would damage the U.S. economy and threaten jobs, hurting the American workers Trump says he wants to help. The lawmakers also cautioned the administration to move carefully as it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement — including during talks between U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade officials this week in Montreal. The White House is also considering whether to impose trade restrictions on imports of steel and aluminum, decisions that could have a widespread impact on the U.S. economy.