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Letter From The Editor: His food safety budget is Gottlieb’s departing legacy

This is one of those “in-the-news” stories that you might not be expecting. Federal food safety appears to be on the precipice for its best budget year in its history.
That possibility is contained in 2020 budget submitted to Congress by the White House. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a short list of domestic programs proposed go get budget increases.

Rather dramatic increases, in fact. If accepted by Congress, the FDAs payroll will grow by 455 to 18,052.Its total discretionary budget authority will reach $3.3 billion, an increase of $362 million.FDA food safety will increase by $52 million for a total of $1.122 billion.Putting aside food safety for a moment, the FDAs year-to-year gains in other areas are also dramatic. Its human drugs area rises by $266 million for a total of $1.98 billion. Biologics rise to $52 million; animal drugs and feeds, up $19 million; medical devices,$109 million more; and tobacco products, climbing $135 million.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb must get some of the credit for getting the submission delivered to Congress. His budget-writing success makes his surprise departure from the administration all the more curious.Some credit should probably also go to the Beltway-based Alliance for a Stronger FDA. In its own Washington D.C. words, the Alliance is a multi-stakeholder advocacy group that unites more than 150 patient and consumer groups, biomedical research advocates, health professions societies, individuals and industry to work to increase FDAs budget authority appropriations.That mouthful aside, The Alliance in the past decade has emerged as a force in the FDAs budget process. Between the executive budget writers and Congressional committees and staffs, it takes iron pants to follow the process from beginning to end.When the White House dropped the 2020 budget, Gottlieb and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis issued a wordy joint statement boosting how the 2020 budget with funding for new resources and staff will allow FDA to enhance signal detection, response to outbreaks, and post-response evaluations.They explained how whole genome sequencing (WGS) is a game-changer.

generating more food safety investigations involving foods contaminated by pathogens.FDAs budget arguments are always better when the agency and its advocates can put numbers together with an effective verbal pitch.The budget submittal has $16 million to improve signal detection of foodborne illness and strengthen the response to food contamination. Another $16 million in new money will go for state cooperative agreements to conduct inspections; and $36 million for review human food ingredients.It unclear who at FDA will be responsible for getting the 2020 budget across the Congressional finish line now that Gottlieb is to be gone.The National Cancer Institutes Ned Sharpless is taking over as FDA Commissioner at least on a temporary basis.

Hes a fan of Gottliebs aggressive style and is a good bet for the job on a long-term basis.But the White House cut $900 million from the NCIs proposed 2020 budget, supporting increases only for childhood cancer.As promising as it Looks for FDA, it is still going to be a lengthy budget process.Food safety across all FDA programs will total $1.4 billion, an increase of $67 million over the fiscal year 2019. That includes $44 million in user fees.FDA has made the jump from building the regulatory framework to support the Food Safety Modernational Act of 2011 to enforcement.Congress passed the FSMA to prevent foodborne illness, not just respond to it.Theres been doubt about whether Congress would cash that check when it came due.   The outgoing FDA Commissioner has found a way to call those Congressional cards.

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Saudi crown prince meets Chinese president, bags oil deal

BEIJING (AFP) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met China’s President Xi Jinping on Friday and bagged a $10-billion oil deal, pressing on with his diplomatic charm offensive in Asia following a global outcry over the Khashoggi killing.
Mohammed arrived in Beijing on Thursday following visits to Pakistan and India, showing the world that his country still has allies after the grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
China is a good friend and partner to Saudi Arabia, Xi told Mohammed in a meeting in the Great Hall of the People.Saudi Arabia’s relations with China can be traced back a very long time in the past, the crown prince said.
Over such a long period of exchanges with China, we have never experienced any problems with China.He met with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng earlier on Friday.Is the crown prince’s tour symbolic of Saudi Arabia’s pivot to the East? Yes, Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at the pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.Riyadh wants to strengthen alliances in Asia — especially now with the continuing fallout with the United States over Khashoggi’s murder and other issues, and attempts by the EU to put Riyadh on a blacklist over money laundering allegations.
Khashoggi, a fierce critic of the prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, a murder that tarnished the image of the kingdom and of the crown prince in particular.Riyadh initially denied the murder, then gave several conflicting accounts of Khashoggi’s death, and now claims he was killed in an unauthorised operation that did not involve Mohammed.
The murder sparked global indignation, with US lawmakers pushing for Washington to distance itself from the crown prince, but the White House has maintained close relations with Riyadh, a major ally in the Middle East.Separately, the European Commission wants to add Saudi Arabia to a money-laundering blacklist of governments that do too little to thwart the financing of terrorism and organised crime.
But China is looking to strengthen its economic ties with the kingdom, as Beijing pursues its ambitious Belt and Road trade infrastructure initiative, while Riyadh rolls out Saudi Vision 2030 — the crown prince’s major programme to diversify the national economy away from oil.Mohammed told the Chinese President they could join the two projects to realise more progress and jointly confront challenges.
Vice Premier Han suggested during his meeting with the crown prince that the two countries deepen partnerships in energy, infrastructure construction, finance, and high-tech.Trade and securityRiyadh’s national oil giant Saudi Aramco said it had signed an agreement to form a Saudi-Chinese joint venture — worth more than $10 billion — to develop a refining and petrochemical complex in northeastern Liaoning province.
The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority also announced the signing of 35 non-binding memorandums of understanding, including deals related to energy, mining, transportation and e-commerce.China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner.
As the kingdom diversifies its non-oil economy, it needs a variety of other investors with technical expertise, including the Chinese, Otaibi said.China steadfastly supports Saudi Arabia pushing a diversification of its economy and societal reforms, Xi told Mohammed, according to state broadcaster CCTV, adding he supported the hard work the kingdom has undertaken to promote stability and safety at home.National security is a potential area of cooperation between the Gulf state and China.The two countries should boost partnerships in counterterrorism and law enforcement, and exchange experience on combating extremism, Han said in his meeting with Mohammed, according to a report by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.
The Saudis said they firmly supported Beijing’s efforts to keep the country secure, and opposed interference by external forces in China’s internal affairs, Xinhua added, paraphrasing remarks by the crown prince.Riyadh has remained silent over China’s treatment of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in the far-western region of Xinjiang.Up to one million Uighurs and other minorities are being held in internment camps in Xinjiang as part of a draconian anti-terror and anti-separatist campaign, according to estimates cited by a UN panel.China has the right to take anti-terrorism and de-extremization measures to safeguard national security, Mohammed told Xi, according to CCTV.

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Hair apparent: Hanoi barber offers free Trump, Kim cuts ahead of summit

HANOI (AFP) – Shorn on the sides, thick on top for the Kim Jong Un look; bright and blonde for the Donald Trump-loving customers: a creative Hanoi barber is offering free cuts ahead of the leaders’ meeting in the Vietnamese capital next week.
Barber Le Tuan Duong has been overrun with customers since word got out about his free dos, a gesture he’s offering out of sheer excitement for the February 27-28 meeting in Hanoi.But one style has come out on top.Over the past three days, I have made 200 Kim style haircuts, but only five for Trump, he told AFP in his cramped Tuan Duong beauty academy in Hanoi.He would normally charge a whopping $43 for the Trump dye-job, a steep fee in a city where most haircuts cost a few dollars.No matter that Trump’s infamous coif has come under fire, some Hanoians are delighted with the do.I want the Vietnamese to know more about Trump, through my hairstyle. For me, Trump is an excellent man and that’s why I want this hairstyle, a freshly dyed Vuong Bao Nam said.The barber is not the only artist in Hanoi paying tribute to the leaders.Painter Tran Lam Binh has been busy churning out technicolour peace portraits of the men, including one emblazoned with red hearts and the word L-O-V-E.
His colour palette may not be true to life, but Trump’s blonde locks and Kim’s full cheeks in the 10 or so paintings he has created so far are unmistakable.I really want the two leaders, or just one of them, to come and see my works here.I dream of giving one of the portraits to them, Binh told AFP from a Hanoi cafe where he has been working on the series.The self-proclaimed Trump obsessive started painting the American president after the election, and has about 50 portraits of him in his studio — some that he displayed in the US capital outside the White House in 2016.When I paint him, I feel like I understand his inner feelings through his eyes, his face, the 36-year-old artist said, standing next to several easels displaying his technicolor works.He has even sculpted a nearly two-metre (six-foot) statue of the brash US leader, and while Binh’s admiration for the reclusive Kim who has overseen North Korea’s nuclear ambitions has been slower to emerge, he has grown fond of him.I like his humour and his exhibitionist nature, he said.The meeting between Trump and Kim is aimed at building on their summit in Singapore in June, the first ever face-to-face between sitting leaders from the US and North Korea, which have never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

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Top North Korean official says his country faces major food shortages, blaming weather and …

A senior North Korean official says his country is facing dwindling food supplies and has been forced to cut food rations for its people, according to memo, written by Kim Song, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, appears to be an unusual admission that the country lacks enough food to feed its people, a situation that Kim blamed on a combination of natural disasters and the sanctions regime that is making it difficult to obtain farming equipment.Song said the North Korean government was urgently requesting help from international organizations to feed its people.The memo was obtained by NBC News from the country’s United Nations mission.
Kim’s claims are difficult to verify, and his government has not always been a reliable source of internal statistics. He said a food assessment, conducted late last year in conjunction with the UN’s World Food Program, found that the country produced 503,000 fewer tons of food than in 2017 due to record high temperatures, drought, heavy rainfall and — in an unexpected admission — sanctions.In a plea for food assistance from international organizations, however, the memo states that sanctions “restricting the delivery of farming materials in need is another major reason” the country faces shortages that has forced it to cut “food rations per capita for a family of blue or white collar workers” from 550 grams to 300 grams in January.“All in all, it vindicates that humanitarian assistance from the UN agencies is terribly politicized and how barbaric and inhuman sanctions are,” the memo says.Though the country plans to increase food imports and harvest its crops early this year, the memo says that North Korea would still face food shortages and may only increase rations by 10 grams in July.This unusual admission from a country that tends toward secrecy came just before President Donald Trump prepares to face North Korea leader Kim Jong Un next week in Vietnam.The White House hopes to pressure Kim to rid his country of nuclear weapons.Experts warned, however, that the claims of a severe shortage might be a negotiating tactic ahead of the two-day summit.
“It may be admitting weakness, but it’s not without a plan,” said Dr. Victor Cha, who served as the director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration.Cha said that North Korea may feel that it has some momentum to convince Trump to loosen the sanctions against it, especially with South Korea, China and Russia “beating down the doors of the United States.”But for the United States to blink in next week’s confrontation, the Trump administration will have to see results, Cha said.Related News Trump says second summit with North Koreas Kim Jong Un will be in Hanoi“They’re going to want some denuclearization steps from North Korea, but I don’t think the North Koreans are going to give up very much,” Cha said. “When we talk about any sanction-lifting though, a lot of experts would say the place where you can do the least harm and the most good for the North Korean people is through humanitarian sanctions.”Of North Korea’s 25 million people, 10.3 million or 41 percent of the population face food insecurity and 10.1 million suffer from malnutrition, according to a March 2018 UN report.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance to Farm No.1116 under KPA Unit 810, in this undated photo released in Pyongyang Sept. 13, 2016.  KCNA / via Reuters fileIn an attempt to increase the pressure against Kim’s regime and their nuclear program, the Trump administration increased sanctions that essentially cut off the flow of international humanitarian aid to North Korea, according to an August Reuters report. U.S. humanitarian aid in 2018 dropped nearly 57 percent from the year prior, the wire service reported.Though it is clear that North Korea is receiving less aid, it is more than unusual for them to publicly admit that sanctions are working and causing the nation to suffer.The White House National Security Council and the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.North Korea has previously acknowledged food shortages, appealed for humanitarian aid and blamed international sanctions for creating problems for its agricultural production, experts and former U.S. officials said. The country has repeatedly suffered food crises in recent decades, due to a combination of inefficient collectivist farming methods and bad weather.
A devastating famine in the mid-1990s claimed the lives of up to three million people, and some aid experts called it one of the 20th century’s worst famines.Last year, the Trump administration stopped granting visas to humanitarian workers who had been traveling to North Korea to provide aid to farmers and medical assistance in a country where malaria and tuberculosis are endemic.Aid groups wrote a letter to the administration in October arguing that the block on visas violated international law, would exacerbate the country’s dire humanitarian situation and that would only undermine any diplomatic initiative by Washington.The administration told aid groups in January it would ease the restrictions to allow them to resume their work in the North.
Daniel Jasper, advocacy coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker charity that has conducted humanitarian work in North Korea for decades, said the sanctions and the way they have been enforced has “inhibited our operations.”“It’s reasonable to infer there would be food insecurity” as a result of the sanctions, Jasper said.Even if North Korea managed its resources more efficiently, it does not have enough arable land to feed its population of about 24 million people, Jasper said. Much of the Korean peninsula’s fertile land lies in South Korea.“The division has always taken a toll on food security in the North,” he said.The North Korean regime in the past also has linked negotiations over its nuclear program to food aid, demanding more assistance as a condition for taking part in talks.The new memo is consistent with Pyongyang’s tactics “to weaken the sanctions regime by appealing to humanitarian concerns,” said Jung Pak, a former CIA officer and now senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Even though the regime imports hundreds of millions of dollars in luxury items, it consistently blames the U.S. and U.N. for its problems,” she said.Sue Mi Terry, who tracked North Korea as a CIA analyst, said she believes the regime is preparing the way for the upcoming summit.“What they want is sanctions relief.That’s the main thing that they’re looking for,” said Terry, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are laying the groundwork for this meeting with Trump.This makes sense.”The Trump administration will probably be open to broadening exemptions for humanitarian aid, as it would be something concrete to offer to Pyongyang without having to fully lift the economic sanctions before North Korea makes substantial concessions over its nuclear weapons program, she said.This could be “one of the deliverables at this second summit,” Terry said.Phil McCauslandPhil McCausland is an NBC News reporter focused on the rural-urban divide.

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