Approps panel sends FY 2013 USDA spending bill to House floor

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 - The House Committee on Appropriations voted to include measures banning USDA horse slaughter inspection, including fresh potatoes in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and suspending farm program benefits to farmers earning more than $250,000 annually in the Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations bill Tuesday. Among the defeated amendments is one to uphold the 2011 USDA Grain Inspectors, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule for livestock and poultry producers.

The committee passed the Fiscal 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill with five additional amendments, plus a manager's amendment. The legislation, compiled by the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, provides a $19.4 billion discretionary funding level to USDA and FDA programs. The level is a decrease of $365 million from fiscal 2012 and $1.7 billion below President Obama's request. The Committee members went through more than 10 amendments during the committee process, approving five of those, plus the manager's amendment.

Together we can feed the Bees"

On a voice vote, allies of integrated poultry companies beat back an attempt by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, to strike a subcommittee provision to roll back a December 2011 USDA regulation governing chicken production contracts. The subcommittee's language will “undermine the secretary's ability to protect growers from abuse by integrators,” Kaptur said. She claimed support from the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union and 133 other organizations that endorsed the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration rule. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., citing Georgia Farm Bureau support, backed Kaptur's amendment, saying the GIPSA rules as written “will prove to be helpful by balancing the negotiating position of growers in negotiating capital improvements.”

Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., led opposition to Kaptur's motion, saying that USDA had gone beyond the direction in the 2008 farm bill to better define practices inconsistent with the Packers and Stockyards Act.

“Our language keeps USDA and GIPSA within the confines of the farm bill,” he said, and prevents “regulatory overreach.” Where the 2008 farm bill covered broilers, or chickens raised for meat, the USDA rule extended regulation to breeders, “hens for reproduction. That was never in the farm bill,” he said.

Kingston, a former insurance salesman, also faulted USDA's provision giving contract growers more flexibility when companies asked them to make capital improvements that cost more than $12,500. “In my previous life, I insured a lot of chicken growers and you can't do anything for $12,500.” He put the cost of a typical chicken house upgrade at $50,000 to $60,000.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Director Ferd Hoefner called the vote “a perversion of the legislative process.” It was “unprecedented language forcing USDA to rescind existing contract fairness protections for livestock and poultry producers,” he said.

By voice vote, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. James Moran, D-Va., to reinstate a ban on USDA inspection of horse slaughter plants. The provision, which has been included in appropriations bills since 2005 but dropped in conference last year, is a long-standing priority of the Humane Society of the United States. “Industrial slaughter of horses should not be condoned by the U.S. government,” Moran said. “We have to put an end once and for all to this practice.”

USDA-inspected slaughter of unwanted horses was more humane, Kingston said. “We're trying to reopen this business” to meet demand for exports to countries where horsemeat is accepted. “This is a 100 percent emotional issue,” he said. “People now are sending horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said that, without sale for slaughter, unwanted horses are abandoned. “It is more inhumane to let a horse die on the side of the road.”

HSUS applauded the vote. “Adding millions of dollars to the federal budget to inspect foreign-owned horse slaughter plants would be a step backwards for America's iconic horses and a waste of tax dollars,” said HSUS President Wayne Pacelle.”

An amendment similar to one passed in the previous appropriations bill would limit farm payments to producers earning less than $250,000. The amendment, sponsored by Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., lowers the limit from $1.5 million down to $250,000 gross income. Although the amendment passed by voice vote, Kingston voted against it, stating that it should be debated within the jurisdiction of an upcoming five-year farm bill.

Another amendment approved by the committee came from Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and would allow fresh potatoes as qualified vegetables in the WIC program.

Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., fought for several defeated measures during the markup, including language to boost funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The appropriations bill allocates $180 million to the CFTC, $25 million below last year's level and $128 million below Obama's request.

“Dodd-Frank expanded CFTC's oversight 8-fold from the $37 trillion futures market to the over-the-counter swaps market, a domestic market of over $300 trillion in value,” Farr said. “So just when CFTC needs to scale up, they're being slapped with deep cuts that strangle their ability to safeguard against another financial collapse.”

However, Kingston countered that although the CFTC's market oversight increased in dollar amount, the number of transactions the agency oversees only increased .02%.

“While dollar amount is up, that's not what they regulate, they regulate the transaction amount,” Kingston said, pointing out that the agency had an increase in staff and budget since 2008.  The debated amendment to add $44 million to CFTC's budget, offset by reductions to an obesity education program, failed to pass through the committee.

Additional amendments are expected to be offered once the bill goes to the House floor.


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