USDA, EPA and the Interior Department could all shut down at the end of this week unless lawmakers can reach a deal on President Donald Trump’s funding demands for the border wall.

Ahead of the funding deadline looming at the end of the week, USDA is widely expected to release a final rule spelling out requirements for disclosing biotech ingredients in food. 

Also expected this week from USDA is a proposed rule that would make it more difficult for states and counties to get waivers from the work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents who enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

From the Trump administration's perspective, the SNAP waiver is the major piece of unfinished business left over from negotiations over the new farm bill, which Congress is expected to deliver to the White House early this week for Trump to sign. The Senate and House approved the final bill by landslide margins last week.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, were unsuccessful in persuading Senate negotiators to write tougher waiver rules into the farm bill, but Conaway also managed to prevent the Senate from adding restrictions into the farm bill that would have limited Perdue’s ability to tighten the waiver requirements, sources said. 

The border wall hasn’t been the only issue lawmakers have been wrestling with as they try to pass a spending bill to fund USDA, FDA, EPA, Interior and other departments that do not yet have their fiscal 2019 allocations. 

Still unsettled, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill, is whether there will be a provision that would write into law the role of FDA and USDA in regulating cell-cultured meat. FDA and USDA in November announced plans for joint regulation of the products, but the agencies have yet to release a memorandum of understanding detailing what each agency will do. 

Cattle producers are pushing for USDA to have significant oversight, including over the harvesting of the animal cells used for making the product. 

Danielle Beck, director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said her group wants to “support USDA and their efforts to play a really strong role in regulatory oversight and both agencies are asking the right questions to ensure the safety of the product.” 

Southern lawmakers, meanwhile, are pushing to include $2.5 billion in assistance in the FY19 bill for cotton growers, pecan producers and other agriculture sectors devastated by Hurricane Michael. Cotton producers, who were in the middle of harvesting a bumper crop when the hurricane hit, lost an estimated $550 million to $600 million. 

The food industry and farm groups are eagerly waiting for the release of the biotech disclosure rule, which was required by a 2016 law that preempted state GMO labeling requirements. 

A proposed rule, released in May, provided several options for package symbols and three optional thresholds for the presence of biotech ingredients that would require disclosure: No more than 5 percent of a bioengineered substance by weight; up to 5 percent of the product’s total weight; and more than 0.9 percent BE ingredients. 

As for the SNAP issue, Conaway, who agrees with Perdue that the state waivers are currently too easy for states to obtain, said the rule “will closely mirror what we tried to get done in the  House,” he told reporters last week.

While he wanted the requirements written into law, the USDA rule will make “it more difficult for future administrations to set that waiver abuse to the way it was.”

All or portions of 29 states had exemptions this year from the SNAP work requirements, and virtually all of the waivers were granted on the basis that the average unemployment rate was 20 percent above the national average for a 24-month period, according to USDA data obtained by Agri-Pulse.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said there were various versions of provisions on the waiver issue that were discussed during the farm bill negotiations, "but we couldn't come to any agreement."  Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, "and I thought it was better not to address it," she said.

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

Monday, Dec. 17

10 a.m. - Heritage Foundation forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.

Tuesday, Dec. 18

Wednesday, Dec. 19

2:30 p.m. - Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing, A Comparative Look at Competition Law Approaches to Monopoly and Abuse of Dominance in the US and EU, 226 Dirksen.

Thursday, Dec. 20

Friday, Dec. 21

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

Continuing resolution that funds the government expires at midnight.

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