California legislature advances new food ban

Legislative Watch: Red dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propylparaben ban; little progress on farm bill; foreign farmland purchases debated.

Eric Bohl

September 15, 2023

3 Min Read
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The state legislature of California passed a new bill this week banning the sale of four food ingredients in the state. Perhaps emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding California’s Proposition 12, which effectively placed nationwide restrictions on pork production, the legislature moved to ban red dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propylparaben. If signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, the ban would take effect in 2027.

 The proposed ban would be the first of its kind in the United States, as no state has previously banned ingredients approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Proponents of the ban claim that the ingredients cause health issues. The chemicals have been shown in some studies to increase cancer risk or behavioral problems when administered to lab animals in large doses.

If signed into law, the bill would likely trigger legal challenges, as it would effectively force food manufacturers across the country to stop using these ingredients. The four items targeted are already banned from foods in the European Union.

Little progress on government funding, farm bill

Halfway through the final month of the government’s 2023 fiscal year, Congress has made little progress toward passing appropriations bills and averting an Oct. 1 government shutdown. The Senate ran into a procedural roadblock when Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected to combining spending bills funding the Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies. Leaders in the chamber are exploring options for moving a package forward.

On the House side, the prospects of a deal grew even dimmer this week. Citing three people who were granted anonymity to discuss private conversations, Politico reported Wednesday that the House has abandoned all efforts to pass the agriculture appropriations bill. The bill was scheduled for consideration at the end of July but was pulled after it became clear it did not have enough votes to pass. The agriculture appropriations bill also includes funding for the Food and Drug Administration. The leading issue taking down the bill was controversy within the Republican party over an amendment to prohibit abortion pills from being sent through the mail.

With the growing urgency of solving the appropriations riddle, efforts to advance a farm bill reauthorization have also stalled. The 2018 farm bill also expires at the end of the month, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) both acknowledged this week that a renewal will not happen before the deadline. However, both expressed optimism that Congress will pass a new farm bill before the calendar year ends.

Foreign farmland purchases debated

 Members of the House Financial Services Committee raised the importance of foreign ownership of U.S. farmland during a hearing Wednesday. The panel was investigating the efforts of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an intragovernmental group charged with overseeing activities including purchases of farmland near “sensitive facilities.”

Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Rosen said CFIUS has recently expanded its definition of “sensitive” to incorporate a broader range of locations, now covering 875,000 square miles of the country. Committee member Pete Sessions (R-Texas) pressed Rosen regarding CFIUS’s oversight of farmland purchases, citing USDA data showing that 37.6 million acres of farmland, or nearly 3% of the total, are held by foreign owners. Sessions urged the panel to consider legislation he has offered to make the Secretary of Agriculture a member of CFIUS to provide further oversight of such purchases.

Not all members of the panel were as concerned about the impact of foreign ownership of farmland as Sessions. California Democrat Brad Sherman downplayed concerns, saying, “Perhaps the most benign thing [Chinese investors] could do is buy American farmland. … If we do have a fight with China, we can simply seize the farmland just as they will take hostage all of our investments in China.”

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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