News Column

Rosa DeLauro Opening Statement at Agriculture Appropriations Markup

May 20, 2014



WASHINGTON, May 20 -- Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn. (3rd CD), issued the following news release:

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) made the following opening statement at today's Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee markup. The subcommittee, which DeLauro formerly chaired, considered the Fiscal Year 2015 funding bill for the United States Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

"I cannot in good conscience support this bill as it stands. This subcommittee was given a substantial allocation compared to other subcommittees, such as Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, where I serve as Ranking Member. As a matter of fact we are $1.1 billion below where we were the last go-around. And, yet even with this allocation, the bill before us fails to make the necessary investments to protect consumers. Let me give you several examples:

"At a time when outbreaks of foodborne illness are a continual challenge, this bill funds the Food Safety and Inspection Service, FSIS, at $6 million below last year. This bill assumes the savings from the unproven poultry inspection pilot. This really concerns me. Just last night, I heard listening to the news this morning, 1.8 million pounds of beef linked to E. coli was recalled. 11 people are ill, several are hospitalized and by the way it is one of the most difficult strains of E. coli, which affects the very young and the very old. We should not be cutting back on our food safety inspection efforts when we are seeing recalls that are similar to this on a near monthly basis. The fact is that E. coli is on the path. Now we have Memorial Day coming up. This product from Michigan is going all over the nation. One of the things we are saying to consumers is 'cook it well.'

But there should not be E. coli on the hamburgers people are going to cook this weekend. We have the chance to do something about that and we choose not to.

"And while I appreciate the $25 million this bill includes for the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, I think we need to commit more substantial resources to support full implementation of this indispensable law for reducing food borne illness. We also have to be realistic, particularly since we know we are never going to authorize user fees. I make that same admonition to the Administration. We should provide the FDA with the amount of money they need to protect people from foodborne illness. I am deeply concerned about pharmaceutical drug safety here. I am disturbed that the amount given to address the compounding drug issue is funded at half - $12 million - of the full request for $25 million. Over 700 people were affected with fungal meningitis as a result of compounded drugs. 48 people died across 19 states. It's really staggering that where life and death is concerned we are shortchanging this agency in terms of what it needs to do to address these health issues.

"This bill also leaves the Commodity Futures Trading Commission dangerously underfunded, at $62.4 million below the President's request, at a time when Americans want to see more accountability from Wall Street after an historic financial crisis. Even more troubling here is an unprecedented industry and special interest giveaways in this bill, to the detriment of the health, welfare, and safety of kids and families.

"For example, this legislation includes what I consider to be over-reaching report language that aims to undermine the implementation of menu labeling, with carve outs to different corporate interests, even though we know this transformative law will help families make healthier decisions. We might note who is excluded here: movie theaters, which are demonstrably cafes or bistros, serving all kinds of food, yet they would like to be exempted.

Jalapeno poppers, mozzarella sticks, nachos. What's the calorie count? They want to be excluded. Even gas stations, which serve food as well, want to be excluded.

"There are also attempts in this bill to waive requirements for schools to meet standards that improve school meals and remove unhealthy snack foods in our nation's schools. Why would Congress, already maligned for labeling pizza a vegetable--and I know something about pizza--now seek to weaken federal child nutrition programs, and through the appropriations process no less, other than to appease the industry? Over 90 percent of our schools have complied. The USDA, which provides technical assistance, has repeatedly said they will work with schools having difficulties to make sure they can comply.

"We also know that many of those children eating school meals experience increased hunger during the summer months when school is out. The USDA's pilot Summer EBT Program provides an important way to get at this problem, including feeding nearly 6500 kids last year in Connecticut. I am very concerned that this Committee would make this a rural only program, as if summer hunger for kids is in one part of this nation, and not a nation-wide phenomenon. This program has proven to be affective in all types of communities. All kids and their families need additional nutrition in the summer-no matter where they live. Your geography should not determine whether you can eat healthily or not. That's not the nation we aspire to be.

"I am glad that WIC, a life-saving program, has been allocated funds to meet the estimated caseload. But I am deeply concerned about the attempt in this bill to circumvent the USDA/Institute of Medicine process determining the appropriate foods to offer in the WIC food package. Once again, the bill puts industry desires here above the findings and recommendations of impartial scientists. Science-based decisions have served our children and our nation well for decades, and Congress has never before prescribed the details of federal nutrition programs. We should not start to do that now.

Fresh white potatoes are not currently included because the research shows white potatoes are not lacking in the diets of low income women and children. The white potato is the number one consumed vegetable in the nation and other vegetables are lacking. Yet the industry continues to lobby Congress and dictate what should be included in this program.

"Supporters of this bill will no doubt suggest that, in a fiscally tight environment, we cannot afford to make critical investments in WIC, or in food safety, or financial regulation, or in any of the other priorities that are short-changed in this bill. But budgeting is about values and it is about choices. The Majority is choosing to underfund these priorities. And, in any case, funding levels have nothing to do with the many troubling policies that I just laid out. These are simply naked attempts to use the appropriations process to do the bidding of industry and special interests, at the expense of the public interest. I cannot support this bill. We have to do better."

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