Biden administration makes progress toward hunger and nutrition commitments but major items still outstanding

The White House at dusk

Suzy Brooks -

CSPI reviews administration and stakeholder commitments on anniversary of White House conference

The Biden-Harris administration has made considerable progress toward the nearly 200 federal commitments it made to reduce hunger and diet-related disease as part of a national strategy on those topics it released a year ago yesterday. But much more progress needs to be made to get the strategy’s most important initiatives across the finish line, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which evaluated the administration’s progress on 106 key commitments on the one-year anniversary of the landmark conference the administration convened to launch its strategy.   

Of 82 key federal agency commitments assessed and not requiring action on the part of Congress, the administration has completed a quarter (21), according to CSPI. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed evidence-based updates to the nutrition standards for programs like the school meals program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).  

Half, or 42, of the administration’s key commitments not requiring Congressional action are at least in progress, according to the analysis. While work is underway at the Food and Drug Administration on research to develop front-of-package nutrition labeling for packaged foods, for instance, it has yet to issue draft regulations.  

But CSPI could not identify any public progress on a quarter of the key items the administration committed to, and that it could do on its own. For instance, the FDA has made no public progress toward proposing, let alone finalizing, longer-term voluntary sodium reduction targets for the food industry. Nor has the administration taken any public action to implement the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, something that CSPI says the administration could do with literally the stroke of a pen through an Executive Order.  

In contrast, only two of the administration’s 24 commitments that require Congressional action have been completed: making permanent and expanding the Summer-Electronic Benefit Transfer program, which gives kids additional food assistance in the summer months, and increasing funding for FDA’s food work.  

“If the Biden-Harris administration could make good on its commitment to deliver mandatory front-of-package nutrition labeling, that would be the greatest advance in food labeling since the passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990,” said CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie. “And if the administration could spur efforts on the part of the food industry to lower sodium and added sugars in the food supply, it would help Americans avoid diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related health problems. The administration has made significant progress on its own commitments, but apparently Congress is where good ideas go to die.”  

Besides making its own set of federal commitments, the administration invited stakeholders from industry and elsewhere to make their own public commitments in connection with the White House Conference. Most involved nutrition education, healthcare, increasing access to healthy food, and donations made to the charitable food system. Notably, only a small handful of commitments from food companies were aimed at the aspect of the U.S. food system most under the companies’ control: increasing the healthfulness of the U.S. food supply, through reformulation, better procurement practices, or better labeling.  

CSPI says that if Congress passes an appropriations package for Fiscal Year 2024 it should fully fund key federal agencies and programs such as FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program and provide core economic supports, for example by renewing and expanding the Child Tax Credit. 

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