House panel advances bill targeting FDA regulations

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday advanced a $20.7 billion spending bill that takes aim at Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations.

The bill, which funds the FDA and the Department of Agriculture, is the eleventh of 12 spending bills reported out of committee for the next fiscal year.

“If we continue at the current rate, we will have marked up all of the 12 bills for the first time in many years. So you’re making history as we go along,” Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

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Overall, the legislation would provide $175 million less than current levels and $1.1 billion less than President Obama’s request.

The bill would exempt electronic cigarettes and other newer tobacco products from the FDA’s pre-market review process.

“Many of these products are aimed at children, including a substantial number of the 7,000 flavors of e-cigarettes ... bubble gum, gummy bears, swedish fish,” ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, blasting the rider, which she called “nothing short of a giveaway to the tobacco industry.”

Republicans have also proposed delaying the implementation of the FDA’s new menu labeling regulation by at least one year.

The regulation, announced last November, is scheduled to take effect Dec. 1 and would require any food establishments with more than 20 locations to list the number of calories in the prepared food they sell.

Under the House measure, the regulation wouldn’t take effect until Dec. 1, 2016, or later.

Democrats said the bill’s language could delay its implementation even further, by as much as seven years. Republicans blocked an amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) that would have prevented further extensions.

“I believe this is simply an effort to stonewall an implementation of this important public health tool,” DeLauro said.

“At the end of the day, we need to make sure that we give consumers more information about what they’re putting into their bodies ... the calorie intake they’re consuming,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) added.

Lawmakers approved an amendment from Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that would protect businesses from litigation over a three-year period so they can comply with a new rule to reformulate products and remove partially hydrogenated oils.

The bill also funds agricultural research to help farmers prevent the spread of diseases to their crops, animal and plant health programs and conservation programs.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, which examines products in the meat, egg and poultry industries, would receive funding in the bill.

Housing loans and rental assistance would be provided under the bill to low-income families living in rural areas.

The bill contains mandatory funding, which is not appropriated by Congress, for nutrition and food programs. Child nutrition programs, for example, would get $207 million above the 2015 level while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would receive $184 million less than 2015 and $2 billion less than Obama’s request.