Legislative Watch: Food, agricultural bill pushed back; Iowa legislature advances fake meat labeling bill; Senate confirms USDA Rural Development head.

Eric Bohl

March 1, 2024

3 Min Read
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With only hours to spare, Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown that would have temporarily closed the USDA and Food and Drug Administration. Facing a March 1 funding deadline for four of the 12 annual appropriations bills, legislators agreed to a deal that will push back the date on the food and agriculture bill by one week.

Unlike previous short-term extensions, this edition comes with an agreement on what the ultimate long-term bills will look like. Half of the appropriations bills are now expected to be completed by next Friday, with the other half due March 22. The first group consists of the bills covering USDA and FDA, Energy and Water Development, Interior, Transportation-HUD, Commerce-Justice and Science, and Military Construction-VA.

The House passed the plan Thursday afternoon, followed quickly by the Senate. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said House Republicans agreed to the plan because they are “trying to turn the aircraft carrier back to real budgeting and spending reform,” but acknowledged that ultimately many of the policy reforms his members sought will not be in the final agreement.

Iowa legislature advances fake meat labeling bill

This week, the Iowa Senate unanimously voted to approve a bill restricting labeling of lab-grown and plant-based meat alternatives produced in the state. The legislation would require such products to be labeled as “meatless” or “imitation.” The Meat Integrity Act, also called the Fair Labels Act, is sponsored by Sen. Dawn Driscoll (R).

"Lab-grown products are emerging technology, and the fair labels act is an important first step for making sure that consumers understand the difference between lab-grown or plant-based products and real beef, pork, turkey, lamb, goat and chickens raised by farmers and ranchers,” Driscoll said.

If the measure becomes law, enforcement would fall on food processing facilities rather than retailers. Violations for mislabeling products in contradiction of the law would be punished by civil penalties ranging from $500 to $10,000 per offense. The bill passed the Senate 49-0 and now heads to the House for consideration.

Senate confirms USDA Rural Development head

After a seven-month vacancy, the U.S. Senate confirmed Basil Gooden to be the next Under Secretary for Rural Development at USDA. The post was opened last July when Xochitl Torres Small was promoted to the Deputy Secretary role.

Gooden has served as Virginia’s State Director of Rural Development since 2021, and previously served as the state Secretary of Agriculture. The Senate approved his nomination by voice vote.

Following the confirmation, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “The Senate’s confirmation of Dr. Basil Gooden as Under Secretary for Rural Development speaks directly to the results of his work in championing affordable housing, community advancement, and economic development. I have the fullest confidence that he will lead USDA’s Rural Development mission area with the energy and personal commitment he has demonstrated throughout his impressive career.”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott (D-Va.) congratulated Gooden, saying, “Dr. Gooden’s extensive experience touches on many issues important to rural communities, including affordable housing, wealth development in distressed communities, and improving infrastructure. His tenure as Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for the Commonwealth of Virginia and most recently as Director of State Operations for USDA’s Office of Rural Development make him a remarkably qualified candidate for the role of Under Secretary of Rural Development.”

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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