DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA)

Statement of Regulatory Priorities

USDA's regulations cover a broad range of issues. Within the rulemaking process is the department-wide effort to reduce burden on participants and program administrators alike by focusing on improving program outcomes, and particularly on achieving the performance measures specified in the USDA and agency Strategic Plans. Significant focus is being placed on efficiencies that can be achieved through eGov activities, the migration to efficient electronic services and capabilities, and the implementation of focused, efficient information collections necessary to support effective program management. Important areas of activity include the following:

  • Legislation covering major farm, trade, conservation, rural development, nutrition assistance and other programs ("Farm Bill") expires at the end of fiscal year 2007. Regulations will need to be promulgated to implement any new or modified programs reauthorized included in the new Farm Bill that is now under development. It is anticipated that a number of high priority regulations will be developed during FY 2008 to implement the Farm Bill, but additional details are not available for inclusion in this plan.

  • USDA will continue regulatory work to protect the health and value of U.S. agricultural and natural resources while facilitating trade flows. This includes amending regulations related to the importation of fruits and vegetables, nursery products, and animals and animal products, and continuing work related to regulation of plant and animal biotechnologies. In addition, USDA will propose specific standards for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of birds under the Animal Welfare Act.

  • In the area of food safety, USDA will continue to develop science-based regulations that improve the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products in the least burdensome and most cost-effective manner. Regulations will be revised to address emerging food safety challenges, streamlined to remove excessively prescriptive regulations, and updated to be made consistent with hazard analysis and critical control point principles. To assist small entities to comply with food safety requirements, the Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue to collaborate with other USDA agencies and State partners in the enhanced small business outreach program.

  • As changes are made for the nutrition assistance programs, USDA will work to foster actions that will help improve diets, and particularly to prevent and reduce overweight and obesity. In 2008, FNS will continue to promote nutritional knowledge and education while minimizing participant and vendor fraud.

  • USDA has priority projects in the Rural Development mission area to strengthen the regulations for its broadband access program to better focus on areas without such access, and to consolidate and streamline its regulations relating to the delivery of its guaranteed loan programs.

  • USDA will continue to promote economic opportunities for agriculture and rural communities through its BioPreferred Program (formerly the Federal Biobased Product Preferred Procurement Program). USDA will continue to designate groups of biobased products to receive procurement preference from Federal agencies and contractors. In addition, USDA intends to publish rules establishing the Voluntary Labeling Program for biobased products.

    Reducing Paperwork Burden on Customers

    USDA has made substantial progress in implementing the goal of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 to reduce the burden of information collection on the public. To meet the requirements of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) and the E-Government Act, agencies across USDA are providing electronic alternatives to their traditionally paper-based customer transactions. As a result, producers increasingly have the option to electronically file forms and all other documentation online. To facilitate the expansion of electronic government, USDA implemented an electronic authentication capability that allows customers to "sign-on" once and conduct business with all USDA agencies. Supporting these efforts are ongoing analyses to identify and eliminate redundant data collections and streamline collection instructions. The end result of implementing these initiatives is better service to our customers enabling them to choose when and where to conduct business with USDA.

    The Role of Regulations

    The programs of USDA are diverse and far reaching, as are the regulations that attend their delivery. Regulations codify how USDA will conduct its business, including the specifics of access to, and eligibility for, USDA programs. Regulations also specify the responsibilities of State and local governments, private industry, businesses, and individuals that are necessary to comply with their provisions.

    The diversity in purpose and outreach of USDA programs contributes significantly to USDA being near the top of the list of departments that produce the largest number of regulations annually. These regulations range from nutrition standards for the school lunch program, to natural resource and environmental measures governing national forest usage and soil conservation, to emergency producer assistance as a result of natural disasters, to regulations protecting American agribusiness (a major dollar value contributor to exports) from the ravages of domestic or foreign plant or animal pestilence, and they extend from farm to supermarket to ensure the safety, quality, and availability of the Nation's food supply.

    Many regulations function in a dynamic environment, which requires their periodic modification. The factors determining various entitlement, eligibility, and administrative criteria often change from year to year. Therefore, many significant regulations must be revised annually to reflect changes in economic and market benchmarks.

    Almost all legislation that affects USDA programs has accompanying regulatory needs, often with a significant impact resulting in the modification, addition, or deletion of many programs. In 2008, USDA anticipates implementing a new Farm Bill through regulations on major programs covering domestic commodity support, crop insurance, conservation, export and foreign food assistance, bioenergy, rural development, agricultural research, and food and nutrition programs.

    Major Regulatory Priorities

    This document represents summary information on prospective significant regulations as called for in Executive Order 12866. The following agencies are represented in this regulatory plan, along with a summary of their mission and key regulatory priorities for 2008:

    Food and Nutrition Service

    Mission: The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) increases food security and reduces hunger in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthful diet, and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.

    Priorities: In addition to responding to provisions of legislation authorizing and modifying Federal nutrition assistance programs, FNS's 2007 regulatory plan supports USDA's Strategic Goal 5, "Improve the Nation's Nutrition and Health," and its three related objectives:

    Improve Access to Nutritious Food. This objective represents FNS's efforts to improve nutrition by providing access to program benefits (Food Stamps, WIC food vouchers and nutrition services, school meals, commodities) and distributing State administrative funds to support program operations. To advance this objective, FNS plans to finalize rules implementing provisions of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171) to simplify program administration, support work, and improve access to benefits in the Food Stamp Program (FSP). The Agency will also issue rules implementing provisions of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-265) to establish automatic eligibility for homeless children for school meals.

    Promote Healthier Eating Habits and Lifestyles. This objective represents FNS's efforts to improve nutrition knowledge and behavior through nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion, and to ensure that program benefits meet the appropriate nutrition standards to effectively improve nutrition for program participants. In support of this objective, FNS plans to propose regulations updating nutrition standards in the school meals programs, and finalize a rule revising requirements that allow schools to substitute nutritionally-equivalent non-dairy beverages for fluid milk at the request of a recipient's parent in addition to medical care providers. FNS will also publish an interim final rule making improvements in food packages in the WIC program to reflect current dietary guidance, based on recommendations made by an Institute of Medicine expert panel.

    Improve Nutrition Assistance Program Management and Customer Service. This objective represents FNS's ongoing commitment to maximize the accuracy of benefits issued, maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of program operations, and minimize participant and vendor fraud. In support of this objective, FNS plans to finalize rules in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) to improve program management and prevent vendor fraud, as well as finalize rules in the FSP to improve the Quality Control process.

    Food Safety and Inspection Service

    Mission: The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products in commerce are wholesome, not adulterated, and properly marked, labeled, and packaged.

    Priorities: FSIS is committed to developing and issuing science-based regulations intended to ensure that meat, poultry, and egg products are wholesome and not adulterated or misbranded. FSIS continues to review its existing authorities and regulations to streamline excessively prescriptive regulations, to revise or remove regulations that are inconsistent with the Agency's hazard analysis and critical control point regulations, and to ensure that it can address emerging food safety challenges. FSIS is also working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better delineate the two agencies' jurisdictions over various food products.

    In February 2001, FSIS proposed a rule to establish food safety performance standards for all processed ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products and for partially heat-treated meat and poultry products that are not ready-to-eat. The proposal also contained provisions addressing post-lethality contamination of RTE products with Listeria monocytogenes. In June 2003, FSIS published an interim final rule requiring establishments to prevent Listeria monocytogenes contamination of RTE products. The Agency is evaluating the effectiveness of this interim final rule, which in 2004 was the subject of a regulatory reform nomination to OMB. FSIS has carefully reviewed its economic analysis of the interim final rule in response to this recommendation and is planning to adjust provisions of the rule to reduce the information collection burden on small businesses. FSIS also is planning further action with respect to other elements of the 2001 proposal, based on quantitative risk assessments of target pathogens in processed products.

    FSIS plans to amend the poultry products inspection regulations to provide for a new inspection system for young poultry slaughter establishments that would facilitate public health-based inspection. Although this new system would be available initially only to young chicken slaughter, FSIS anticipates that this proposed rule would provide the framework for action to provide public health-based inspection in all establishments that slaughter amenable poultry species. This proposed rule will be designed based on some data from the HACCP-based Inspection Models (HIMP) pilot and will reflect FSIS' and establishments' experience under HIMP, which began in 1997. The proposed rule will also reflect information FSIS has gathered at public meetings on risk-based inspection for processing and slaughter this past year.

    In the same regulations that propose to establish a public-health based poultry products inspection system, FSIS intends to replace, with a performance standard, the requirement for ready-to-cook poultry products to be chilled to 40 °F or below within certain time limits according to the weight of the dressed carcasses. Under the performance standard, poultry establishments would have to carry out slaughtering, dressing, and chilling operations in a manner that ensures no significant growth of pathogens, as demonstrated by control of the pathogens or indicator organisms. The existing time/temperature chilling regulations would remain available for use by establishments as a "safe harbor" for compliance with the new standard.

    FSIS proposed on March 7, 2006, to amend the Federal meat and poultry product inspection regulations to provide that the Agency would make available to individual consumers lists of the retail consignees of meat and poultry products that a federally inspected meat or poultry products establishment has voluntarily recalled. FSIS believes this action will improve public health by making available more information on where recalled products were sold. With this information, consumers will be more likely to identify and dispose of the products or return them to the stores that sold them.

    FSIS is collaborating with the FDA in an effort to rationalize the division of food protection responsibilities between the two agencies and eliminate confusion over which agency has jurisdiction over which kinds of products. The agencies are taking an approach that involves considering how the meat or poultry ingredients contribute to the characteristics and basic identity of food products. Thus, FSIS plans to propose amending its regulations to exclude from its jurisdiction cheese and cheese products prepared with less than 50 percent meat or poultry; breads, rolls, and buns prepared with less than 50 percent meat or poultry; dried poultry soup mixes; flavor bases and reaction/process flavors; pizza with meat or poultry; and salad dressings prepared with less than 50 percent meat or poultry from the requirements. FSIS also plans to clarify that bagel dogs, natural casings, and close-faced meat or poultry sandwiches are subject to the requirements of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act.

    FSIS also is planning to propose requirements for federally inspected egg product plants to develop and implement HACCP systems and sanitation standard operating procedures. The Agency will be proposing pathogen reduction performance standards for egg products. Further, the Agency will be proposing to remove requirements for FSIS approval of egg-product plant drawings, specifications, and equipment before their use, and to end the system for pre-marketing approval of labeling for egg products.

    Small business implications. The great majority of businesses regulated by FSIS are small businesses. With the possible exception of the planned poultry inspection system regulations, the regulations listed above substantially affect small businesses. FSIS recognizes the difficulties faced by many small and very small establishments in complying with necessary, science-based food-safety or other consumer protection requirements and in assuming the associated technical and financial burdens. FSIS attempts to reduce the burdens of its regulations on small business by providing alternative dates of compliance, furnishing detailed compliance guidance material, and conducting outreach programs to small and very small establishments.

    FSIS conducts a small business outreach program that provides critical training, access to food safety experts, and information resources (such as compliance guidance and questions and answers on various topics) in forms that are uniform, easily comprehended, and consistent. The Agency collaborates in this effort with other USDA agencies and cooperating State partners. For example, FSIS makes plant owners and operators aware of loan programs, available through USDA's Rural Business and Cooperative programs, to help them in upgrading their facilities. FSIS employees meet proactively with small and very small plant operators to learn more about their specific needs and provide joint training sessions for small and very small plants and FSIS employees.

    Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

    Mission: A major part of the mission of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is to protect the health and value of American agricultural and natural resources. APHIS conducts programs to prevent the introduction of exotic pests and diseases into the United States and conducts surveillance, monitoring, control, and eradication programs for pests and diseases in this country. These activities enhance agricultural productivity and competitiveness and contribute to the national economy and the public health. APHIS also conducts programs to ensure the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals under the Animal Welfare Act.

    Priorities: APHIS is continuing work that will result in a revision of its regulations concerning the introduction of organisms and products altered or produced through genetic engineering. This work consists of two parts. The first is to amend the existing plant-related regulations to reflect new consolidated authorities under the Plant Protection Act. The second is to begin with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to consider regulatory approaches for transgenic animals. These regulatory changes are needed to ensure that USDA regulations for plant and animal health keep pace with advances in technology. APHIS also plans to propose changes to the regulations for importing nursery stock that will enhance our ability to protect plant health. The Agency also plans to propose changes to its regulations concerning bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to provide a more comprehensive framework for the importation of certain animals and products. With regard to animal welfare, APHIS plans to propose standards for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of birds covered under the Animal Welfare Act.

    Additional information about APHIS and its programs is available on the Internet at http://www.aphis.usda.gov.

    Agricultural Marketing Service

    Mission: The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides marketing services to producers, manufacturers, distributors, importers, exporters, and consumers of food products. The AMS also manages the Government's food purchases, supervises food quality grading, maintains food quality standards, and supervises the Federal research and promotion programs.

    Priorities: AMS would continue work in several areas. The July 3, 2007, interim final rule establishing a Dairy Product Mandatory Reporting Program requires dairy product manufacturers to report to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) information on price, quantity, and moisture content of products sold. Information must also be reported about the amount of dairy product stored, per statute. AMS has implemented a program to audit information reported to NASS. Provisions of the interim final rule will expire 12 months from the date of publication unless further regulatory action is taken; AMS intends to finalize the rule. Under the August 8, 2007, proposed rule to implement the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act, AMS would collect information about the marketing of cattle, swine, lambs, and related products. AMS intends to finalize the rule.

    By statute, country of origin labeling requirements will apply to all covered commodities on September 30, 2008. Covered commodities include beef, lamb and pork, fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, and peanuts. The intent of this law is to provide consumers with additional information on which to base their purchasing decisions. AMS intends to finalize rulemaking to meet the statutory deadline.

    AMS Program Rulemaking Pages: All of AMS's rules, published in the Federal Register, are available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov. This site also includes commenting instructions and addresses, links to news releases and background material, and comments received on various rules.

    Rural Development

    Mission: Rural Development's mission is to support increased economic opportunities and improved quality of life in rural America. This support is provided through loan, grant and technical assistance for rural housing, community facilities, business and industry, and electric and telecommunication facilities.

    Priorities: Current priorities include strengthening the regulations for the rural broadband access program to address infrastructure and services deployment issues. Another priority is to consolidate and streamline regulations relating to enhancing delivery of loan guarantees through a unified regulation on common provisions.

    Forest Service

    Mission: The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, productivity, and diversity of the Nation's forests and rangelands to meet the needs of present and future generations. This includes protecting and managing National Forest System lands; providing technical and financial assistance to States, communities, and private forest landowners; and developing and providing scientific and technical assistance and scientific exchanges in support of international forest and range conservation.

    Priorities: The Forest Service's priorities for fall 2007 are to publish a proposed regulation to a proposed rule for National Forest System land management planning, and then adopting a final rule at 36 CFR 219, subpart A. This rulemaking is the result of a U.S. district court order dated March 30, 2007, which enjoined the United States Department of Agriculture from implementation and utilization of the land management planning rule published in 2005 (70 FR1023) until it complies with the court's order regarding the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act (Citizens for Better Forestry et al. v. USDA, C.A. C05-1144 (N. D. Cal.)).

    On January 12, 2001, the Department of Agriculture promulgated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (RACR) to provide for the conservation and management of approximately 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System under the principles of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. On July 14, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming found the 2001 roadless rule to be unlawful and ordered that the rule be permanently enjoined. The State of Idaho and the State of Colorado have petitioned the Secretary pursuant to 5 U.S.C. -553(e) and 7 C.F.R. -1.28 for state-specific rules to replace this national rule in their respective States.

    The Forest Service is proposing to move existing agency NEPA procedures, required by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and codified at 40 CFR 1507.3, from the internal Forest Service Environmental Policy and Procedures Handbook (FSH) 1909.15 to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 36 CFR part 220. New procedures would be added and existing procedures would be revised where clarity is needed to incorporate CEQ guidance and align agency NEPA procedures with agency decision processes.

    Office of the Chief Economist

    Mission: The mission of the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) is to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on the economic implications of USDA policies, programs, and proposed legislation; to ensure the public has consistent, objective, and reliable agricultural forecasts; and to promote effective and efficient rules governing USDA programs.

    Priorities: The regulatory priority for OCE is to continue implementing the BioPreferred Program (formerly the Federal Biobased Product Preferred Procurement Program) authorized under section 9002 of the 2002 Farm Bill (Public Law 107-171). Included in this priority are proposed and final regulations designating items for preferred Federal procurement. These regulations will assist in the expansion of market opportunities for manufacturers of biobased products, resulting in economic opportunities for American agricultural producers and rural communities. These efforts support USDA's strategic goal "To enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of rural and farm economies." In addition, OCE will look to begin implementation of the BioPreferred labeling program. Once implemented, this program will allow biobased manufacturers to receive a label to be used in the commercial market to distinguish their products as biobased.

    Aggregate Costs and Benefits

    Per the amendments to E.O. 12866, we are providing an aggregate estimate of costs and benefits of final regulations included in the Regulatory Plan that will be made effective in calendar year 2008. However, any aggregate estimate of total costs and benefits must be highly qualified. Problems with aggregation arise due to differing baselines, data gaps, and inconsistencies in methodology and the type of regulatory costs and benefits considered. In addition, aggregation omits benefits and costs that cannot be reliably quantified, such as improved health resulting from increased access to more nutritious foods and higher levels of food safety and increased quality of life derived from investments in rural infrastructure. Some benefits and costs associated with rules listed in the Regulatory Plan cannot currently be quantified as the rules are still being formulated. With these caveats noted, USDA anticipates aggregate annual monetized benefits to range from $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion. Aggregate annual monetized costs are anticipated to be approximately $0.5 billion.