But, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, adds that she is hopeful that positive changes made to child nutrition standards under the Obama Administration will be spared.
“We are concerned about are Congress rolling back aspects of the Nutrition Facts label and menu labeling. There is also a USDA rule under consideration that would improve what small retailers offer if their store participates in SNAP programs,” which might be changed under the new administration, Wootan told FoodNavigator-USA.
She explained that “the Obama Administration has been very supportive of health and nutrition policies … and under it at USDA, they have been working to improve school foods, nutritional quality in food in childcare and several provisions to ensure that people have access to healthy foods through a variety of their programs.”
Likewise, FDA under the current administration has advanced voluntary sodium reduction guidelines, updating the Nutrition Facts label, calorie labeling at chain restaurants and in vending machines, Wootan said.
However, by virtue of having the president’s support these programs could be viewed negatively by the incoming administration, which has voiced intentions to undo many of the Obama Administration policy changes, Wootan said.
And while this may sound like an overly-simplistic approach to policy development by the new administration, Wootan said CSPI is “on high alert.”
Is FDA funding on the line?
Another area of concern that CSPI is watching closely is how the new administration will fund FDA.
Wootan notes that during the campaign the Trump team issued a position paper that included slashing funding for the agency and cutting back inspections and related regulations, which it deemed “overkill.” However, that paper was quickly pulled and has not been replaced.
“If the administration slashed FDA funding and rolled back food safety measures, it would put the public’s health at risk and mean more illness and death due to contaminated food,” Wootan said.
However, she added that she is hopeful that industry support for FDA will soften the incoming administration’s approach to the agency and its oversight efforts.
“The thing about FDA funding is that the food industry also supports a strong FDA and we at CSPI have lobbied with the food industry for additional funding for the FDA. So, I don’t think that cuts to the FDA are going to be as straightforward as some some conservatives think,” she said.
She added that many people familiar with food safety regulations -- including industry players -- don’t see the regulations as overkill, but rather as providing more certainty and being good for business.
“Food safety scares are bad for business,” she added.
Omnibus vs. continuing resolution hinges on Trump
Trump’s influence on key aspects of food policy will be felt even before he is sworn in, Wootan notes.
She explained that an immediate priority for Congress during the lame duck session is keeping the government funded, and whether legislators will push forward a full ominbus bill or put off the budget with an continuing resolution until March is a question that will likely be up to the President-elect.
Weighing the two options, Wootan explained, “a continuing resolution would flat-fund everything. It would be clean. There would be no policy riders in it, or virtually no policy riders … like rolling back aspects of the Nutrition Facts labeling, or weakening menu labeling or weakening school lunch standards. … But those risks won’t go away, they simply will be delayed.”
If, on the other hand, Congress pushes an omnibus appropriations bill forward, “some agencies might get additional funding, but there is also the opportunity for mischief through policy riders added to bill,” Wootan said.
“It is all just really unclear,” she added.
Could child nutrition be spared cuts?
With that ambiguity comes a small glimmer of hope for Wootan -- especially with regards to child nutrition reauthorization efforts.
“Child nutrition -- the school lunch program, school breakfast, the WIC program -- have long enjoyed bipartisan support dating back to the 1940s when the school lunch program was created under the Truman administration,” Wootan said.
She acknowledged the programs have become polarized with the First Lady’s heavy involvement putting-off some Republicans, but she said, “I hope that we can return to the times of bipartisan support for the child nutrition program.”
She explained: “These programs are good for farmers, and they have really strong support of families. The overwhelming majority of Americans support good nutrition in schools and don’t support rolling back school nutrition standards. They don’t see ensuring that money spent on school lunches goes towards healthy foods as the nanny state run amok or over-regulation -- they see it as just good government and common sense.”
But ultimately, industry, health advocates and citizens invested in food policy will have to wait and see what the future holds, she concluded.