They took aim at measures that are part of the Obama administration’s efforts to combat obesity among children and adults as well as some initiatives enacted by the previous Congress.
On Tuesday, the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee approved a 2012 spending plan that directs the Agriculture Department to ditch the first new nutritional standards in 15 years proposed for school breakfasts and lunches. The lawmakers say meals containing more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy will cost an additional $7 billion over five years — money they say the country can ill afford in difficult economic times.
The committee also directed the USDA to scale back participation in an effort to develop voluntary guidelines for companies that market food to children. And it directed the FDA to exempt grocery and convenience stores and other businesses from regulations set to take effect next year requiring that calorie information be displayed.
“Our hope is that the Senate will reiterate their strong support for these policies rather than try to roll back important progress on obesity prevention,” said Margo Wootan, direction of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The most intense reaction was generated by a provision offered by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) that would block the FDA from issuing rules or guidance unless its decisions are based on “hard science” rather than “cost and consumer behavior.” The amendment would prevent the FDA from restricting a substance unless it caused greater harm to health than a product not containing the substance.
“The FDA is starting to use soft sciences in some considerations in the promulgation of its rules,” said Rehberg, who defined “hard science”, as “perceived as being more scientific, rigorous and accurate” than behavioral and social sciences.
“I hate to try and define the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist, between a sociologist and a geologist, but there is clearly a difference,” he told the committee.
Rehberg said his rider was not targeted at tobacco, but anti-smoking advocates said Wednesday that the rider would make it impossible for the FDA to regulate menthol in cigarettes, a major decision pending at the agency.
“This would undermine a law that Congress passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support two years ago,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It would undo the one thing that all members of Congress agreed upon, which was to protect kids from tobacco.”