Washington Week Ahead: Biotech labeling fight heads to Senate floor

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 13, 2016 - The Senate looks to settle the issue of biotech labeling once and for all this week with a historic debate on legislation that would block states from requiring GMO disclosure

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, a compromise version of the legislation is likely to be released on Monday. The bill is expected to be on the floor by Wednesday.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts and his committee's top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, spent last week negotiating over changes that would ensure the bill could get enough Democratic support to move to break a filibuster and move to a final vote. Another source said that Stabenow, who has been pushing for a mandatory disclosure requirement, had not yet signed onto an agreement with Roberts as of Monday morning.

Groups supporting and opposed to the legislation (S. 2609) have gone to the air in recent days in the Washington area and key states ahead of the election.

In a new post on medium.com, Tom Dempsey, president and CEO of the Snack Foods Association, warned that allowing states to impose their own labeling requirements “would be an expensive and logistical nightmare.” A TV ad that the industry-backed Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is airing implores viewers to “Protect family farms and keep food prices lower for families.”

A counter ad by the pro-labeling Center for Food Safety argues that the public deserves “clear, on-package labeling.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been promoting the legislation in speeches and appearances before Congress but he'll be out of town this week on a trade mission to Peru and Chile.

Lets Talk Food

Tuesday is a pivotal day in the Republican presidential race, with primaries in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. Florida and Ohio are winner-take-all, with 165 GOP delegates up for grabs between them. Illinois and Missouri have rules that could make them essentially winner-take-all. North Carolina's GOP delegates are allocated proportionately.

With Ohio's 66 delegates at stake, candidates in both parties have been sharpening their attacks on U.S. trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free-Trade Agreement. “People are fed up with the stupidity of our trade deals and our labor deals,” Republican Donald Trump said during an extended anti-trade pitch in Cleveland over the weekend.

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been pushing Hillary Clinton to commit to killing the TPP rather than re-negotiating it. “We need an entirely new trade policy that creates jobs in this country, not more low-wage jobs abroad,” Sanders said.

Tuesday also is National Ag Day. Agri-Pulse will host its annual Ag Day kickoff event Monday, starting with a panel discussion on how sustainability concerns are changing food production and marketing.

Tuesday's Ag Day events will include a luncheon featuring the Outstanding Young Farmer honorees and some members of Congress, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Also this week, the House Budget Committee may release and vote on a fiscal 2017 budget resolution.

Last week, 254 agriculture, conservation and nutrition groups sent a letter to the budget and appropriations committees urging them not to touch any of the titles in the 2014 farm bill, which includes crop insurance as well as conservation and nutrition assistance.

Did you know Agri-Pulse subscribers get our Daily Harvest email and Daybreak audio Monday through Friday mornings, a 16-page newsletter on Wednesdays, and access to premium content on our ag and rural policy website? Sign up for your four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

Separately, 129 House Democrats wrote the Budget committee urging Republicans not to propose cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Previous resolutions have proposed turning SNAP over to the states to run, which could devastate the program, the lawmakers say.

President Obama begins his history-making trip to Cuba next Sunday, accompanied by Vilsack, Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Some lawmakers also are going, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, March 14

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is traveling through Friday to Peru and Chile.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman attends the kick-off meeting of the TPP Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

All day - Meeting of USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, 107A Whitten. 

Noon - Cato Institute forum on Army Corps of Engineers vs. Hawkes Co., a Supreme Court case scheduled for oral arguments March 30 on whether landowners have a right to court review of wetlands determinations, 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

3:30 p.m. - Agri-Pulse's National Ag Day kickoff event, Panel Discussion: Farm to Fork Politics: How Sustainability is Reframing Food Production and Marketing, followed by presentation of the Doan Award, 902 Hart.

5 p.m. - Agri-Pulse customer appreciation reception, 902 Hart.

Tuesday, March 15

National Ag Day

All day - Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture.

9:30 a.m. - House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service, B-308 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on foreign pests and diseases, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the foreign assistance budget, 2172 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Labor Department, 2358-C Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Nov. 3, 2015, presidential memorandum, “Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment,” 366 Dirksen.

10:15 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USDA rural development programs, 2362-A Rayburn.

Noon - National Ag Day luncheon featuring the Outstanding Young Farmer honorees and members of Congress, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., 106 Dirksen.

1:30 p.m. - House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on trade with Cuba, 2255 Rayburn.

2:30 p.m. - Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USAID, 124 Dirksen.

Wednesday, March 16

USTR agricultural negotiator Darci Vetter speaks to member of the Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri Farm Bureaus on the TPP.

8:30 a.m. - The Atlantic forum: “Resistance: The Antibiotics Challenge,” Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave, NW.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USDA research, education and economics programs, 2362-A Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the Water Resources Development Act, 406 Dirksen.

1 p.m. - House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on USAID, 2359 Rayburn.

2 p.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard, 2154 Rayburn.

Thursday, March 17

10 a.m. - Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Labor Department, 138 Dirksen.

1 p.m. - House Agriculture Committee two-part hearing on USDA organization and program administration, 1300 Longworth.

Friday,  March 18

9 a.m. - House Agriculture hearing, second part, on USDA program administration, 1300 Longworth.

#30

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