Legislative Watch: Request for Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer; Countering Communist China Act; USDA finalizes voluntary country of origin labeling rule.

Eric Bohl

March 15, 2024

3 Min Read
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On Monday, President Biden released his fiscal year 2025 budget for the federal government. The budget asks for a 7.4% increase in funding for “discretionary” activities at USDA, trailing only the Department of Energy’s 7.5% boost among cabinet-level agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency also would see a large increase of 8.4%, leading non-cabinet agencies.

Biden’s USDA budget request includes $7.7 billion to fully fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a major point of contention in recent budget battles. It would increase funding for wildlands firefighting by $387 billion, raises funding by $733 million for climate-related funding and increases NRCS funding by $67 million. It also would establish a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer to “promote the safe and responsible application of artificial intelligence in advancing the productivity of the Nation’s agriculture sector.”

“Looking ahead to 2025, it is critically important that USDA’s programs, staff and facilities are funded adequately to live up to its moniker ‘The People’s Department,’” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The President’s budget proposal honors this commitment and enhances the opportunities available for millions of Americans, including in rural communities. Whether it’s the pay raises our firefighters deserve for their brave service, making sure infants and kids have access to nutritious foods, or investing in rural prosperity through housing and business capital, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to ensure people can find success in the places they call home.”

Bill to clamp down on China introduced in House

Two prominent members of Congress recently announced legislation to combat rising competition from China. Representatives Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced the Countering Communist China Act. Hern currently serves as Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest conservative bloc in the House. Wilson was selected to lead an RSC national security task force.

The pair call the bill “the strongest legislation against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)” and emphasize that it will prioritize economic security and safety. The legislation would end Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, prohibit CCP-affiliated people and entities from purchasing American farmland and authorize the President to enter free trade agreements with Taiwan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia.

“The CCP dictatorship in China run by Xi Jinping threatens global security, endangers our allies and is destroying the future of the people of China,” said Wilson. “I am grateful to support this important effort by the Republican Study Committee to counter the CCP and root out their malign influence in our education system and our economy.”

USDA finalizes voluntary country of origin labeling rule

The latest edition of the years-long country of origin labeling (COOL) saga was finalized this week with USDA’s release of its voluntary “Product of USA” labeling rule. As the name implies, use of the label will be up to the discretion of the seller rather than mandatory. However, if a meat, poultry or egg product is is to be labeled as a Product of USA, it must have been derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from agricultural groups, ranging from praise to lukewarm acceptance and skepticism. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the rule at the annual convention of the National Farmers Union, which applauded the proposal. Officials from Canada and meat industry groups have raised concerns about animals that routinely are transported back and forth across the border throughout their lifecycles.

“Today’s announcement is a vital step toward consumer protection and builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to bolster trust and fairness in the marketplace where smaller processors can compete,” said Vilsack. “This final rule will ensure that when consumers see ‘Product of USA’ they can trust the authenticity of that label and know that every step involved, from birth to processing, was done here in America.”

The rule will go into effect Jan. 1, 2026, but USDA is encouraging sellers to begin implementing its guidelines as soon as possible.

About the Author(s)

Eric Bohl

Eric Bohl is an agricultural policy leader with extensive experience on Capitol Hill. He served six years as Chief of Staff to Congressman Jason Smith (R-MO) and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and previously served as Legislative Director to Rep. Hartzler. During that time, he led her work on the House Agriculture Committee and was influential in efforts to craft the 2014 Farm Bill, as well as handling environmental, energy, transportation and infrastructure, and agricultural trade issues.

Eric’s experience starts at the ground level. His family has deep roots in both animal and row-crop farming going back several generations. This understanding of the unique challenges real farmers face brings valuable perspective to help solve clients’ needs. His midwestern values also allow him to build meaningful relationships with people on both sides of the political aisle and find common-sense solutions that transcend partisan lines.

This approach has continued to be the cornerstone of Eric’s career in grassroots advocacy. He served more than five years as Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy for Missouri Farm Bureau. He was a senior member of the organization’s legislative team and led communications and coalition advocacy efforts, including on the 2018 Farm Bill. His writings on agriculture and rural policy have been published in newspapers across the nation. He serves as First Vice President of the St. Louis Agribusiness Club and is a board member of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, two of the nation’s largest and strongest organizations supporting agribusinesses.

Before his career in public policy, Eric was a practicing attorney for nearly five years, focusing on real estate and agricultural law, commercial transactions, and commercial litigation. Eric earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri, graduating from both programs with honors, and served as the Managing Editor of the Missouri Law Review.

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