Senate Ag Committee approves grain standards bill

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 21, 2015 - The Senate Agriculture Committee today unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing the Grain Standards Act, including a provision that would ensure export grain inspections continue during labor disputes.

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The House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the bill late last month. It, like the Senate bill, is designed to avoid a repeat of what happened last year at Washington's Port of Vancouver when state inspectors refused to go to work during a labor demonstration, citing safety concerns. Washington is one of five states where state agencies conduct export inspections under authority of USDA.

Under the House bill, inspectors from one of the other four states would also be allowed to step in and do the work if the host state inspectors won't.

The Senate bill would mandate the Agriculture Secretary to make policy changes that would prevent, as well as to take immediate action if and when, another disruption in inspection occurs. The USDA would also be required to keep Congress abreast of its plans to resolve any such disruption until inspections have started again. The House bill has a similar provision.

“Voting in favor of this legislation is an important first step in making sure that our grain inspection system continues to facilitate U.S. exports,” Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said about the Senate bill. “Transparency and predictability are key to maintaining a positive global reputation,” he continued, not only for our trading partners, but also for “our farmers in Kansas and all across the country.”

Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the Senate bill “thoughtful and responsible” and said it would help keep the U.S. “the No. 1 farm goods exporter worldwide” and protect the estimated 1 million U.S. jobs generated by American agricultural exports.

Stabenow said she hoped the bill would reach the Senate floor soon, and be passed into law before Sept. 30 when authorization for the existing law expires.

USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service directly inspects about two-thirds of exported grain, including shipments through Louisiana and Texas, and delegates the work to state agencies in five states: Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. USDA declined to intervene in the shutdown of Washington inspections, citing the same safety issue.

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