Washington Week Ahead: GOP readies nutrition bill; Organics Board debates biotech

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 24, 2016 - House Republicans are looking to move an overhaul of child nutrition programs against stiff Democratic resistance, while the Senate GOP plots a more bipartisan authorization bill for waterway projects.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is preparing to debate a child nutrition reauthorization bill that would force the Agriculture Department to reconsider school meal standards every three years and roll back restrictions on snacks that were imposed under the expired Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The markup hasn't been officially scheduled, but sources said it is expected to be on Thursday.

In reviewing the nutrition standards, USDA would have to ensure that school meal standards don't increase costs for schools. “For years, schools have struggled to deliver healthy meals under difficult constraints and unrealistic mandates imposed by Washington,” said committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.

USDA issued a statement Friday saying that the bill “threatens to eliminate and weaken the nutrition safety net for our nation's students and families. For many children, their only access to nutritious meals is at school, through the school meal programs. We should be making it easier for more children in need to access breakfasts and lunches to address the dangers of food insecurity and hunger.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, meanwhile, is expected to mark up a new Water Resources Development Act.

EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Barbara Boxer of California, ideological opposites on issues such as climate change, have proven to be effective collaborators on infrastructure development.

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“For every dollar we invest (in infrastructure), we get $16.60 in benefits,” Inhofe said at a February hearing. Inhofe said he wants to enact a WRDA bill every two years.

Lets Talk Food

Meanwhile, the Senate resumes debate this week on amendments to its fiscal 2017 Energy-Water spending bill, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers.

The House is expected to pass a pair of bills on Wednesday that are important to pesticide manufacturers and biotech companies. The American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act (HR 4923) would set up a process for determining tariff relief on components that the pesticide industry need to import. The previous miscellaneous tariff bill expired in 2012. The Senate-passed Defend Trade Secrets Act (S 1890) would allow biotech companies to file civil claims directly in federal courts against people the firms say have stolen trade secrets.

Organics Board wrestles with hydroponics, biotech

Away from Capitol Hill, the National Organic Standards Board on Monday begins a three-day meeting where it will debate several issue that the industry has been struggling with for years.

One is a longstanding proposal by the board to bar the use of hydroponics in production of organic production. Critics of the practice say hydroponic vegetables are being grown in several states and also imported from Europe and Mexico and sold as organic.

Farmers and other advocates of the ban say true organic farming can't be done without soil, but the issue has been caught up in a pending USDA proposal to approve organic aquaculture. Some fish farms want to raise vegetables in the water.

The board also is wrestling with how to ensure the purity of organic seed. The board is expected to consider a proposal by the Organic Trade Association to do a study that could be used to determine limits for trace amounts of biotech contamination in organic seed. 

US-EU talks resume in New York

Trade negotiations with the European Union resume in New York on Monday. Twenty-six farm-state senators, led by Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, wrote U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Friday, saying that the EU “must be willing to work toward liberalization in all sectors of agriculture.”

The senators specifically criticized EU efforts to protect geographical indications, and the letter complained about delays by EU member countries in approving biotech crop traits.

The presidential candidates face another Super Tuesday this week, this time in the Northeast. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all hold primaries for both parties. Donald Trump, who is in the process of trying to project a more presidential image, is scheduled to speak on foreign policy the following day at the National Press Club.

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

Monday, April 25

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is in Vietnam through Tuesday to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership and agricultural trade.

The 13th round of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations opens today and goes through Friday, New York.

National Association of Farm Broadcasters Washington Watch meeting, though Wednesday.

North American Agricultural Journalists annual meeting, through Tuesday, Cosmos Club.

National Organic Standards Board meeting, through Wednesday, Omni Shoreham

9 a.m. - USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.

11 a.m. - FDA webinar on FSMA transportation rule.

4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report.

Tuesday, April 26

NOSB meeting.

Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, “U.S. Energy Policy in the 2016 Elections and Beyond: Incremental or Transformational?” All day. 1616 Rhode Island Avenue NW.

Global Food Security Symposium sponsored by Chicago Council on Global Affairs, all-day, Reagan Bldg.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the impact of different price environments on oil and gas development, 366 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce China Business Conference, 1615 H Street NW

Wednesday, April 27

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman meets with an AmCham Japan delegation.

Army Corps of Engineers environmental advisory board meeting, Residence Inn, 1199 Vermont Ave. NW.

8:30 a.m. - Chamber of Commerce China Business Conference continues.

10 a.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, “Bureau of Land Management's Regulatory Overreach into Methane Emissions Regulation,” 1324 Longworth.

10:30 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Focus on the Farm Economy: Factors Impacting the Cost of Production,” 1300 Longworth.

Noon - Donald Trump speaks on foreign policy at the National Press Club.

Thursday, April 28

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing to review the impact of capital margin requirements on end-users, 1300 Longworth.

Noon - EPA farm, ranch, and rural community advisory committee holds public teleconference

2 p.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Focus on the Farm Economy: Food Prices and the Consumer,” 1300 Longworth.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on impact of invasive species on land and water resources, 366 Dirksen.

Friday,  April 27

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