The U.S. Codex Office needs more funding – here’s why

lettuce and food safety

On May 25, 2023, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and dozens of other biotechnology organizations sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for more funding for the U.S. Codex Office (USCO).

But what is USCO – and why does funding it matter?

What is USCO?

The U.S. Codex Office, or USCO, is a smaller government agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USCO is vital in guaranteeing science-based agricultural trade and promoting access to safe and nutritious food.

USCO also participates in communities by promoting education in the field of science-based foods, as well as increasing consumer health.

Another important function of the USCO is the agency’s dedication to fairness within worldwide food trade systems. The USCO manages U.S. involvement in the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a joint U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) food standards program.

The U.S. adopted the Codex Alimentarius, which is a set of “food codes” or standards, and guidelines used internationally to protect consumer health. The Codex Alimentarius Commission joins the FAO, WHO, and other subsidiary bodies like the USCO, which come together and revise the Codex Alimentarius in compliance with current issues.

What’s the problem with USCO?

USCO’s budget is $4.8 million. Of course, this is quite small compared to the rest of USDA’s $481.11 billion federal spending budget.

With such little funding, it’s challenging for USCO to make steps substantial enough to gain leverage within the agricultural sector.

The May 25 letter, signed by 40+ biotech organizations, outlines why the USCO needs more funding and the positive impacts that would come from it.

The letter states: “At a time when global food security and our global food system remain a top priority, it is imperative the U.S. prioritize all tools necessary to promote transparency and science at an international level, including the USCO.”

“This funding would account for USCO’s core functions that are mission critical to U.S. trade and global competitiveness, including day-to-day operations, written submissions, routine meetings, and other activities,” continues the letter.

Why the U.S. Codex Office needs more funding

According to the letter, USCO needs more funding due to the agency’s valued voice within world food administrations, like the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Also noted was that insufficient funds for USCO would hinder the nation’s capacity to address pivotal multilateral matters impacting both Americans and the global population. This calls for a funding line much higher than the 2023 fiscal year’s $4.8 billion.

Nancy Travis, BIO’s Vice President of International Affairs, stated, “Thanks to the U.S. Codex Office, the United States has been a leader in maintaining food trade that is based on transparent, science-based rules. Reducing funding for the USCO would damage that U.S. presence and leadership role.”

The 2024 USDA budget will increase 11.5%. However, it puts aside $4 million for non-salary inflationary increases necessary to support the Agency’s critical food safety mission. This is about the same as the 2023 budget.

In March 2022, the USDA announced a $68 million investment through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative for research and education into biotechnology and agricultural biotechnology.

It was also quoted: “For agricultural biotechnologies, USDA is building new regulatory processes to promote safe innovation in agriculture and alternative foods, allowing USDA to review more diverse products.”

The possibility of these investments opens the door to the USCO, especially since they influence the use of biotechnology during the global food crisis.

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