Panel OKs GMO salmon labeling, ban on horse slaughter

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 - A ban on horse slaughter would be extended another year and genetically engineered salmon would have to be labeled as GMO under provisions that have been added to a Senate spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee also adopted amendments to the legislation Thursday that would extend a waiver from the whole-grains requirements for school meals and force USDA to delay the end of an import ban on beef from Brazil and Argentina. 

Both the whole-grains waiver and the beef-import measure are also contained in the House version of the fiscal 2016 spending measure.

The extension of the ban on horse slaughter and biotech salmon labeling requirement are not in the House bill. The Senate committee approved both provisions without a roll-call vote. 

Differences between the two bills will have to be worked out later between Senate and House negotiators. 

Together we can feed the Bees"

The salmon labeling requirement proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would add a wrinkle to the congressional debate over labeling for genetically engineered crops. 

Murkowski told colleagues that farmers shouldn't be concerned that the salmon labeling would set a precedent for labeling biotech crops.  

“Corn doesn't swim from one field to another and propagate with other corn in another state. Fish move. Fish escape,” she said. 

A GMO regulation bill that the House is expected to debate next week (HR 1599) would block states from imposing biotech labeling laws and would bar the FDA from requiring labeling for foods derived from biotech plants unless there's a material difference between the GMO product (made with genetically modified organisms)  and its conventional counterpart or the labeling is needed to protect the public. 

The Senate bill, which the committee approved 28-2, lacks several provisions that are in the House bill, including language that would reinstate the use of commodity certificates, which provide a way around the $125,000-per-person limit on marketing loan gains and other forms of subsidies. 

Officials in the cotton industry say that the subsidy cap, imposed by the 2014 farm bill, threatens to disrupt the marketing of the commodity. 

Another provision in the House bill, but not in the Senate version, would delay until 2016 a conservation compliance requirement for crop insurance policy holders. 

The Senate bill isn't as tough as the House version on animal care standards at USDA's Agricultural Research Service. The House bill would withhold 5 percent of the agency's funding for 2016, or $56 million, until ARS takes certain steps in the wake of reports of past abuse at the Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including certifying that it has implemented improvements in care.

A manager's amendment that the Senate committee adopted Thursday contains non-binding report language that directs ARS to ensure its standards are equivalent to what's required in the Animal Welfare Act. The agency also is told to have the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) routinely inspect ARS facilities. 

The 2016 budget year begins Oct. 1, but none of the 12 appropriations bills are likely to be enacted before then since Senate Democrats are blocking passage of any of them until Republicans agree to increase spending levels. 

The Senate committee's ranking Democrat, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, expressed support for the Agriculture measure but reiterated her insistence that Republicans agree to raise the 2016 spending levels government-wide.  “We need a new budget,' she said. “I want to charge ahead and not hurdle into an abyss.”

The Senate bill seeks to ensure that the Obama administration won't use environmental factors in writing the new dietary guidelines. But the bill doesn't go as far as the House Agriculture and Labor-HHS spending bills would do in restricting what evidence the administration can use in writing the recommendations. 

The House bills would bar any new recommendations that aren't supported by evidence rated as “strong” under USDA scientific guidelines.  

The Senate provision, which is identical to language in the Senate Labor-HHS spending bill, says the new guidelines should be “solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.”

Watching happenings with the ag committee? Keep up on news as it happens. Sign up for a four-week free trial of Agri-Pulse. 

Other differences between the Senate and House bills: 

-The Senate version would provide FDA an additional $45 million in fiscal 2016 to implement the new rules required by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The House bill would provide a $41.5 million increase. The White House wanted $109 million more.

-In a landmark move, the Senate bill earmarks $10 million in international food aid funding for overseas commodities purchases, or “local and regional procurement” (LRP). The 2014 farm bill authorized up to $80 million for such purchases, but Congress didn't approve any LRP funding for fiscal 2015. 

-The Senate bill wouldn't cut the Conservation Security Program. Both bills would reduce funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by about 18 percent below the level mandated by the farm bill.

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