Washington Week Ahead: Senate debates trade secrets, GMO bill fate still uncertain
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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 on the bipartisan Defend Trade Secrets Act (, 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 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.
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. to start labeling their products for biotech ingredients to comply with a Vermont labeling law that takes effect July 1.
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 . 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 , 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 , 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, .
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.
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.
2 p.m. - White House holds event on climate and health, Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
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.
Wednesday, April 6
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.
Friday, March 25
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.