Panel acts to delay beef imports, protect food companies

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 - House appropriators have agreed to block imports of fresh beef from regions of Brazil and Argentina until the Agriculture Department does further study on the potential risk from foot and mouth disease.

The House Appropriations Committee, acting on its fiscal 2016 spending bill for the USDA and Food and Drug Administration, also agreed to provide food companies some protection from lawsuits over trans fat.

An amendment approved by the panel would allow partially hydrogenated oils to continue to be classified as “generally recognized as safe” until the end of a three-year transition period ordered by FDA.

But the committee defeated a Democratic effort to extend a ban on the slaughter of horses and protected a provision sought by the cotton industry to allow farmers to exceed the $125,000-per-grower limit on farm subsidies.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service last week  finalized a rule to allow the beef imports from Brazil and Argentina under conditions that the agency said would minimize the risk of foot and mouth disease.

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The committee approved a manager's amendment to the spending bill that would require USDA to develop a comprehensive risk evaluation and conduct site inspections of processing plants in the two countries.

“We haven't had a case of foot and mouth disease in the U.S. and that's because of our stiff ban against the importation of live animals and meat from countries like Brazil and Argentina,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who criticized the APHIS decision. “I would have loved to have seen us preventing the USDA from moving forward, period, but I applaud this effort.” The last foot and mouth case in the U.S. was in 1929.

The APHIS decision, which was announced ahead of a visit to Washington by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was also criticized by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which said it could have a “profound impact” on the U.S. industry.

The committee action was especially important this year because it isn't clear that the bill will get to the House floor and the Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to consider its version of the bill. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy made no mention of the Agriculture bill in his list of priorities for the House ahead of the long August recess.

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Keeping the bill off the floor would protect it from amendments to roll back farm programs or to debate measures such as the horse slaughter ban, which failed on a 24-24 vote in committee Wednesday. Four Republicans on the panel switched their position from last year to oppose the ban this time.

“Supporting this amendment does not stop the slaughter of horses. It just ships the issue to offshore and out of sight,” said the chairman of the Agriculture  Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.

In a four-page letter to the committee, the Office of Management Budget objected to both the spending levels as well as a range of policy riders, including a waiver from the whole-grains standard in school meals and the restrictions on the dietary guidelines process. The bill would bar any new dietary recommendations that are not graded “strong” under USDA stanards. OMB said that would bar new recommendations that are based “on the preponderance of the strongest available scientific evidence, as is current practice.”

An amendment by Sam Farr, D-Calif., to strip the provision failed along party lines, 19-29.

In a rare break from party ranks, Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., tried to kill the provision in the bill that would resurrect the use of commodity certificates as way for producers to avoid the $125,000 payment limit. However, his amendment failed on a voice vote.

The use of certificates ended in 2009 when Congress eliminated a limit on marketing loan gains. The 2014 farm bill restored a limit on marketing loan gains by including them in the $125,000 limit and didn't restore certificates.

But the cotton industry has told lawmakers that the $125,000 limit ($250,000 per married couple) has created problems for individual growers while threatening to disrupt cotton marketing.

For most commodities, marketing loan benefits are a moot issue because market prices remain well above the loan rates. But cotton growers have seen prices plummet since China stopped propping up prices by stockpiling cotton. The adjusted world price of cotton has fallen as low as 45 to 46 cents per pound in recent months, well below the loan rate of 52 cents,  and currently is still at 50.2 cents per pound.

The committee defeated, on voice votes, a pair of Democratic amendments aimed at putting restrictions on crop insurance, including one by Chellie Pingree of Maine that would have limited premium subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross incomes below $750,000 a year. 

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