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House Begins Consideration of Agriculture Spending Bill

Although the House began debate on the FY2002 agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 2330) on June 28, further consideration of the bill was postponed until July 11. In the past, the agriculture spending bill has been embroiled in controversy surrounding RU-486, an abortion-inducing drug. However, this year, language pertaining to apple growers caused the House leadership to pull the bill from consideration several times.

Overall, the measure would provide $15.669 billion for the Department of Agriculture and related agencies, a slight increase over the $15.077 billion appropriated in FY2001. The President requested $15.409 billion for FY2002.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would receive $4.137 billion, a $94 million increase over last year and the same amount requested by the President. Committee report language expresses concern that the “participation rate in the WIC program has been higher in recent months than had been anticipated.” Accordingly, the report states that the committee will “monitor and review the need for additional WIC funding in advance of conference on the FY2002 bill.”

During floor debate on June 28, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) entered into a colloquy with Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies, regarding WIC funding. Expressing her concern about funding for the program, she detailed the program’s benefits for women and children: “WIC has contributed to better birth outcomes and reduction in childhood anemia, key indicators of the health of American children. The program provides mothers, infants, and children with nutritious supplemental food packages, nutrition education and counseling, and a gateway to pre- and post-natal health care. The program also reduces fetal deaths and infant mortality and reduces low birth-weight rates.”

Noting that “when unemployment increases, as it is doing, so does the poverty rate,” Rep. DeLauro stated that in the coming months an additional number of people would become eligible for WIC.

Rep. Bonilla agreed, saying that there is “widespread support” for the WIC program. He added, “I look forward to continuing my work with the gentlewoman to address the changes that may be brought on by adjustments in caseloads.”

Child nutrition programs would receive $10.089 billion, a $554 million increase and the same amount requested by the President. Committee report language accompanying the bill directs the Department of Agriculture to “analyze data collected in the School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, Part II to compare the amount of fruit and vegetables available to children in schools with salad/fruit bars versus those without salad/fruit bars.” The committee expressed its concern “about school lunch nutrition, and in particular about increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables among children.”

The committee report contains additional report language dealing with breast implants and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Women’s Health. Expressing concern about a recent FDA report, which detailed the high rupture rates of silicone breast implants but states that the FDA will approve saline breast implants, the report advises the FDA “to carefully monitor breast implant manufacturers’ patient brochures, informed consent documents, and package inserts to ensure they reflect accurate information about such implants, and to work with manufacturers to ensure women receive full and accurate information before enrolling in any study or undergoing surgery.”

Additionally, the report expresses concern that “insufficient attention has been paid to gender-based research by the FDA,” noting that since the creation of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health in 1994 “its budget and its functions have been stagnant in spite of greatly increased needs.” Accordingly, the report directs the FDA to provide an additional $700,000 to the office in order to “develop an agency-wide database focused on women’s health activities.”

On June 28, the House approved, 271-140, an amendment by Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) that would set aside an additional $2.5 million for the FDA’s Office of Generic Drugs to allow the office to approve generic drugs more quickly.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) also argued in support of the amendment. “Let me just point out that I am the sole person who is responsible for my mother-in-law. I just wrote a check to Bill’s Pharmacy in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, $636 for four different medicines last month. The month before that I wrote a check for $572. The month before that I wrote a check for $835. And these are for brand-name drugs because it is very difficult to get a generic equivalent to market. It is atrocious,” she said.

In opposing the amendment, Rep. Bonilla stated, “The $39 million provided in this bill for generic drug activities includes a 17 percent increase for generic drug review, generous by any standard.”

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