White House Proposes to Shift Federal Roles on Food Safety, Nutrition Assistance

The White House on Friday released a comprehensive plan to reorganize the executive branch, which included two key proposals of relevance to the dairy foods industry.

The plan would transfer the non-commodity nutrition assistance programs currently administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA/FNS) to the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare.


The plan also would reorganize USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food safety functions under a single agency within USDA. FDA is currently responsible for most regulations governing the dairy industry.

The Trump administration said its analysis and recommendations for structural realignment of the executive branch is designed “to better serve the mission, service and stewardship needs of the American people.” Some of the recommendations can be achieved through administrative action, but more significant changes, including the two proposals highlighted above, will require congressional approval.


Department of Health and Public Welfare

If enacted, the plan would transfer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to the new Department of Health and Public Welfare. USDA would continue to administer commodity-based nutrition assistance programs, such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

New Food Safety Agency

The administration’s proposal aims to consolidate the food safety functions of FDA into USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to allow for a better allocation of resources, enhanced communication during illness outbreaks, and improved policy and program planning through a single strategic plan.

The idea of creating a single food safety agency has been previously proposed by the Government Accountability Office, other independent bodies and experts, as well as the Obama administration, but neither political party in Congress has ever given such a proposal serious consideration. It would require moving roughly 5,000 full-time FDA employees and a $1.3 billion budget to USDA, combining their functions with the 9,000 full-time employees and a $1 billion budget already housed there.

USDA and FDA currently have very different regulatory regimes, based upon differing legislative statutory frameworks, including the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, the Egg Products Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act for FSIS, and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act for FDA. To fully align federal food safety oversight, Congress would need to consolidate these acts and provide a new statutory framework, which will require significant time and focus by Congress and food industry stakeholders to achieve.

The administration acknowledged that this plan is not an easy endeavor and that it will not happen overnight. It hopes the proposed plan will spark a larger conversation regarding the roles that the agencies play and whether greater efficiencies can be accomplished by shifting agencies and responsibilities among the departments.

IDFA is consulting with members about the proposed plan and will send comments to the administration and members of Congress next month.

Members with questions may contact Cary Frye, IDFA senior vice president of regulatory affairs, at cfrye@idfa.org or John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, at jallan@idfa.org.