Food and Farm Policy 101
Food and farm public policy is the result of two processes: legislation and administration. The legislative process falls under the purview of Congress, and creates laws that form the basis of governmental programs and actions. The administrative process falls under the purview of the Executive branch, and implements the law’s intent through rules and regulations.
In both cases, we have the opportunity to be heard and influence outcomes. This page will educate you on the basics of federal policy, so you can be an informed and effective advocate!
Legislation is introduced by any senator or representative. It provides the governing framework for the country. Legislation is made by Congress, carried out by the President, and interpreted by the Courts. Revisit the legislative process to brush up on your civics.
Federal legislation can be one-time such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) or cyclical, meaning they are renewed on a schedule such as the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act or the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Cyclical bills are usually reauthorized every five years or so under new, specific names. The reauthorization reflects the overall goals and priorities of the legislators who passed them and the President who signed them into law. In successive iterations of these bills, programs can be added, changed, or eliminated. If a bill is not reauthorized on schedule, some programs will continue, and some will not, based on how they were authorized and funded in the expired bill.
Administrative Rules and Regulations
Rules and regulations are drafted by a federal agency. Once laws are created by Congress and signed by the President, federal agencies create rules and regulations to implement and operate programs pursuant to law. This process differs from legislation in that it does not need to get passed by the House and Senate.
Since heads of federal agencies are part of the executive branch, creating and implementing rules and regulations is a form of executive, not legislative, responsibility. However, the public has an opportunity to comment on proposed rules, opposing or supporting them. These public comment opportunities allow individuals and organizations to voice their opinions and impact the outcome. Like legislation, regulations can be cyclical, i.e.; renewed on a schedule like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, or they can be one-time such as the Food Safety Modernization Act’s eight foundational rules including those regarding growing, harvesting, packing, holding produce for human consumption, and good manufacturing practice and hazard analysis. Administrative rules have the same force and effect as legislation created by Congress.
The House and the Senate both have elaborate committee systems that help manage an extensive governmental agenda. Committees are basically “little legislatures” that members are assigned to, and they have expertise in and jurisdiction over specific policy areas. Committees consider bills and issues, and oversee agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions (such as Agriculture, Education & Labor, etc.) Committees that are critical to SFUSA’s priorities:
Sub-committees are created when Committees need to divide their wide-ranging policy domains into manageable pieces. Committee members are assigned to a Sub-committee that covers an aspect of the greater policy area that the committee oversees. Sub-committees that are critical to SFUSA’s priorities:
- Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Transportation, Sub-committee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather (MSA)
- House Committee on Natural Resources, Sub-committee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife (MSA)
- House Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies
- House Committee on Education and Labor (CNR)
- House Committee on Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations (CNR)
- House Committee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management
- House Committee on Conservation and Forestry
Listed are agencies with jurisdiction over food and farm policy.
The US Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over agricultural and nutrition programs.
The Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety and security of the U.S. food supply, human and veterinary drugs, medicine, medical devices, biological products, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. It is responsible for protecting public health.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a scientific agency that studies and predicts patterns in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. It also works towards coastal and marine ecosystem conservation. It is responsible for administering policies affecting our marine fisheries.
The Department of Health and Human Services oversees programs and services that influence the well-being of individuals, families, and communities as it relates to financial assistance, nutrition assistance, education, child care, and much more. In conjunction with the USDA, the DHHS publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years.
The Environmental Protection Agency protects people and the environment from significant health risks, conducts objective research, and enforces environmental regulations informed by the research.
Legislation and Rules create government programs that impact child nutrition, fisheries, agriculture, etc. Appropriations are necessary for implementing those programs. The appropriations process is important because it funds agencies and programs, allocating how much money these agencies and programs receive to operate. Appropriations are determined by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and their respective sub-committees. The majority of our work concerns the House and Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies sub-committees. While not a regular practice, by cutting off or reducing funds, Congress can abolish agencies and curtail programs. Appropriations take place each year.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition created a comprehensive guide to the appropriations process.