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NEHA Meets With the FDA Commissioner

April 10, 2023

We were in our nation’s capital the first week of April visiting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Headquarters in White Oak, Maryland.

Executive Director Dr. David Dyjack, Director of EZ Rance Baker, Director of Government Affairs Doug Farquhar, and Past President Bob Custard had a lengthy meeting with FDA Commissioner Dr, Robert Califf and Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock to discuss retail food safety and the environmental health workforce.

The meeting began as an overview of retail food safety but soon expanded as both Dr. Califf and Dr. Woodcock had many questions as to how retail food safety operates at the local level and its relationship with FDA. They were pleased to hear how effective the NEHA-FDA Retail Flexible Funding Model Grant Program operated and the effectiveness of both the FDA model Food Code and Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (Retail Program Standards).

NEHA addressed certain concerns regarding FDA, emphasizing that:

  • Retail food safety is performed by state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) agencies. FDA’s food safety efforts should prioritize support for and collaboration with SLTT programs and with associations that support the workforce, such as NEHA.
  • The FDA Food Safety System promotes public health. National uniform standards—such as the FDA Food Code and Retail Program Standards—advance FDA retail food regulation best practices and decrease the occurrence of foodborne illness outbreaks. The Food Code and Retail Program Standards promote FDA’s best advice to address the safety and protection of food offered at retail food and food service industries.
  • A strong, qualified environmental health workforce is necessary to meet the public health mandate around food and human food needs. Trained and credentialed personnel within SLTT food safety programs prevent adverse foodborne health outcomes by ensuring human food remains healthy and nutritious. This workforce is vital in meeting the human food objectives of FDA.

The commissioner and NEHA agreed to work together to advance the joint goal of improving retail food safety in this country.

NEHA Promotes the Environmental Health Workforce Before Congress

Doug Farquhar visited Congress last week to promote the inclusion of the environmental health workforce within the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Program.

The Inflation Reduction Act passed last year included a student loan repayment provision for public health workers. The law is being implemented by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA has the ability to include the environmental health workforce within this loan repayment, but there are no assurances that HRSA will cover environmental health workers.

We visited the offices of Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Andy Harris (R-MD), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) to discuss this concern and request they agree to sign-on to a letter NEHA is circulating to HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson. We also spoke at length on retail food safety and FDA’s appropriation with Representative DeLauro’s staff. Representatives Harris and Miller-Meeks are part of the Congressional Doctors Caucus; their offices encouraged NEHA to reach out to caucus members.

We also visited David Reynolds of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The committee oversees the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is very concerned about student loan forgiveness and workforce issues. He was very appreciative of our insights into the environmental health workforce.

We continue to be active in Congress, promoting the interests of our members and the environmental health workforce.

NEHA Submits Testimony to Senate Appropriations

We submitted testimony in March to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over FDA. The message we advocated was that retail food safety is performed by SLTT environmental health agencies, the FDA food safety system promotes public health, and a strong and qualified environmental health workforce is necessary to meet the public health mandate around food and human food needs. Corresponding testimony will be submitted to the House Subcommittee as well.

For more information, contact Government Affairs Director Doug Farquhar.