Republicans slam FDA ban on employees owning family farms

Top Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday questioning a new policy banning the agency's employees from owning family farms.

The FDA memo, dated Sept. 29, instructs employees to sell their farming interests within 60 days in order to comply with conflict-of-interest rules.

"We are concerned that the actions demanded by the September 29 memorandum may be unreasonable, if not draconian, both in substance and in form. We are not aware of any actual case or problem justifying the reinterpretation," writes ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) and oversight subcommittee ranking member Michael Burgess (R-Texas). "Thus, it is a mystery to us how these FDA employees who own family farms, many of whom have reported their farming to the agency through financial disclosures for 14 years, now suddenly stand to potentially harm 'public confidence in the impartiality or objectivity with which FDA programs are administered' or to otherwise raise serious conflict of interest concerns under the standards of ethical conduct for employees of the executive branch."

In their letter, the two Republicans request that the FDA answer the following questions:

• How did the reinterpretation of FDA’s employee conflict of interest rules, as reflected in the September 29 memorandum, come about? 

• What was the basis for FDA to reject measures such as recusal that are short of divestiture to address any ethics concerns?

• What was the reasoning behind the September 29 memorandum’s demand that the FDA employees' farm ownership interests be sold within 60 days?

• How many FDA employees stand to be affected by the memorandum’s demand that they divest from their farm ownership interests within 60 days? 

• Has FDA given any consideration to the financial or other harms that may be incurred by employees unable to carry out the demands of the September 29 memorandum within the 60-day period?

• Until what date will the enforcement of the reinterpretation of FDA’s conflict of interest rules governing FDA employees be held in abeyance? What procedures are in place to review and/or renew this enforcement suspension prior to arrival of that date? and 

• What steps has FDA taken to ensure that employees affected by the reinterpretation, and any future modifications, will be notified thereof in full, and within a reasonable period of time?