During the consideration of the $147.7 billion FY ’17 agriculture appropriations bill by the House Appropriations Committee there were a number of key issues debated and will likely be considered again if and when the bill goes before the House of Representatives. Some of the items debated were:
- GIPSA: The committed passed an amendment by Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) that defunds any effort by the USDA to re-open the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule which was part of the 2008 farm bill. USDA had proposed major rules in 2010 that would have established new requirements for the marketing of livestock and poultry. It was estimated by the industry that the 2010 proposed rules would have had an economy-wide reduction of more than $1.5 billion in gross domestic product.
Secretary Tom Vilsack has said the new rules are needed to increase transparency in contracts between poultry producers and processors and the USDA will continue to work on finalizing a rule despite the action by the House Appropriations Committee. The concern of beef and pork is the proposal will not be limited to poultry. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee sent a letter to Vilsack cautioning him on moving forward on new GIPSA rules. Roberts says USDA needs to engage in extensive outreach to impacted stakeholders groups before moving forward. Also, the industry has changed since the last proposal and a cost benefit analysis would be needed to ensure current marketplace conditions are “accounted for and the proposal does not result in undue costs.”
- Biotech: An amendment failed that would have eliminated $3 million for the Food and Drug Administration to coordinate with the USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on the safety and benefits of crop biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology. Opponents of providing funding to FDA say it is not the role of government to pay for a propaganda campaign. Report language that accompanies the bill calls on FDA and USDA to start providing information on such things as the safety and benefits of GMOs on their websites and social media within 60 days of the bill’s enactment. This education program is expected to face strong opposition in the Senate.
- Horse slaughter: The bill continues the ban on horse slaughter in the United States.
- Sodium: FDA’s sodium guidelines for food manufacturers would be delayed. The committee wants FDA to use “the latest sound science” when developing its next position on sodium in various food categories.
Other items in the bill include:
- Under Secretary of Trade: USDA is directed to complete its report regarding the establishment of an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture as required by the 2008 farm bill. The report from the department is two years overdue.
- Antibiotic resistance: Nearly $10 million is provided to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection for on-farm surveillance and data collection to enhance the understanding of on-farm levels of antibiotic use and the impact on antimicrobial resistance levels. This provision is supported by producers and the animal health industry.
- Antibiotic research: The bill provides $25 million for research on antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial alternatives through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Service.
Overall the bill provides an additional $113 million for rural development and an increase of $33 million to FDA for implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. To help pay for the bill, the subcommittee is proposing cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Resource Conservation Partnership Program. The bill is $451 million below FY ’16 spending levels. Since the House of Representatives has failed to pass a FY ’17 budget, there is a question if appropriations bills will be considered by the House or we end up with a continuing resolution as in previous years. If the bill goes to the House for consideration we can expect debates over GMO, crop insurance, nutrition programs, Commodity Futures Trading Corporation, Zika virus, tobacco, etc. It could be a preview of what to expect during the 2018 farm bill debate.