Washington Week Ahead: Senate debates trade secrets, GMO bill fate still uncertain

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 3, 2016 - Returning from its Easter recess, the Senate will take up legislation that would help biotech companies protect trade secrets, but there has been little sign of progress on the bigger issue of labeling genetically engineered foods.

The Senate votes Monday on the bipartisan Defend Trade Secrets Act (S. 1890), which would allow companies to file civil claims directly in federal courts rather than relying on prosecutors to bring criminal cases. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee's report on the bill, theft of trade secrets costs the U.S. economy at least $300 billion annually.

“Trade secrets are increasingly important to the American economy, but the law has failed to keep pace with rapidly changing technology and aggressive criminals,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House but no action has been taken on it.

The Justice Department highlighted the threat to agricultural biotechnology by holding a special roundtable last week at Iowa State University.

Meanwhile, the biotech industry hopes that some Democratic senators will return form the break willing to cut a deal on legislation to preempt state GMO labeling laws. After Democrats blocked the bill from advancing March 16, four major food companies announced plans to start labeling their products for biotech ingredients to comply with a Vermont labeling law that takes effect July 1.

Lets Talk Food

Pro-labeling activists are optimistic that additional legislation will pass in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut by July.

Supporters of the preemption bill hope the announcements will put pressure on Democrats, led by the Senate Agriculture Committee's ranking member, Debbie Stabenow, to agree to a compromise.

“We will have to see if members who voted no on cloture feel any differently about after hearing from their constituents over the break,” said Meghan Cline, a spokeswoman of the committee.

Randy Russell, the lead lobbyist for the industry on the issue, said, “Clearly there is growing pressure for the Senate to find a compromise. … Thousands of food companies are having to make decisions right now with how to comply - with no flexibility, no options, and with absolutely no certainty that other states won't pass laws with different rules, exemptions and exceptions.”

Stabenow will be a keynote speaker on Thursday at the Consumer Federation of America's annual food policy conference. Stephen Ostroff, the former acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Commission who will soon replace Michael Taylor as deputy commissioner of foods, will speak on Wednesday.

There has already been some controversy over CFA's decision to disinvite a member of one panel at the conference, science journalist Nina Teicholz, author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” She will appear at a news conference Tuesday with the Nutrition Coalition, a group sponsored by Houston philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold.

Tuesday's Republican primary in Wisconsin could be another turning point in the presidential race. A victory by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would make it a bit more difficult for Donald Trump to get the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination, experts say. Forty-two delegates are at stake Tuesday. They are apportioned by the outcome statewide and in individual congressional districts.

Colorado Republicans are holding a series of conventions that wrap up Saturday to allocate that state's 37 delegates. Cruz won the first six national delegates selected at district conventions on Saturday, according to The Denver Post.

Trump currently has 735 delegates nationwide to 461 for Cruz, according to The New York Times.

The latest RealClearPolitics poll average has Cruz leading Trump in Wisconsin by 39.5 percent to 32.5 percent. In the Democratic race, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a slight lead over Hillary Clinton.

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Clinton, who needs 2,383 delegates to capture the Democratic nomination, has won 1.243 delegates so far to 980 for Sanders. Clinton also has the support of 469 super delegates, compared to just 31 for Sanders, according to the Times count.

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

Monday, April 4

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Berlin through Tuesday to meet with German officials as well as farmers and industry representatives.

All day - Energy Smart Conference, Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

1 p.m. -USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service public meeting on the upcoming Codex Committee on General Principles, available by conference call, USDA Room 107-A, USDA Whitten Building.

2 p.m. - White House holds event on climate and health, Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

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

5 p.m. - Cato Institute viewing of the film “Poverty Inc.” on development groups, with webcast, 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Tuesday, April 5

1:30 a.m. - First Lady Michelle Obama hosts students from Wisconsin, Colorado and Louisiana and representatives of NASA to plant the White House Kitchen Garden.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on military veterans, 192 Dirksen.

3 p.m. - Nutrition Coalition and Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, hold news conference on nutrition policy, National Press Club.

Wednesday, April 6

All day - Consumer Federation of America's National Food Policy Conference, Capital Hilton.

10 a.m. - Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, “Tracking Promises: Analyzing the Impact of Feed the Future Investments in Tanzania,” 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW.

10 a.m. - Senate Agriculture subcommittee hearing on USDA rural development programs, 328-A Russell.

10 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service, 124 Dirksen.

Thursday, April 7

Vilsack is in Paris to co-chair the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting of agriculture ministers.

All day - CFA National Food Policy Conference.

7:45 a.m. - Vilsack and French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll open OECD meeting with news conference, which will be webcast.

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

10: 30 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “The Federal Role in Keeping Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Affordable,” 406 Dirksen.

Friday, March 25

Export-Import Bank annual conference, through Saturday, Omni Shoreham.

Chief agricultural trade negotiator Darci Vetter participates in a panel discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is hosted by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, Fresno, Calif.

9:20 a.m. - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks at the Ex-Im Bank conference.

#30

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