House Democrats proposed a fiscal 2020 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration that would block the Trump administration from relocating two research agencies out of the nation’s capital. 

The draft legislation also would prevent Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from putting the Economic Research Service under control of the Office of Chief Economist. The agency is currently under the purview of the undersecretary for research, education and economics. 

Perdue plans to announce a new site soon for ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Three regions made the list of finalists for the site — the Kansas City and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., areas, and sites in Indiana. 

Another policy rider in the bill would order the department to modify the origin of livestock requirements for organic dairy cows. USDA has never finalized changes proposed by the Obama administration in 2015.

Organic Trade Association Executive Director Laura Batcha praised the committee for "recognizing how important this is for our organic farming community" and said she is hoping USDA will move quickly to finalize the rule. She added she hopes the Senate also includes the language in its appropriations bill. She said issues of organic integrity have arisen because cows have been moved in and out of the organic system, mostly so that producers could take advantage of cheaper, non-organic feed.

An additional provision would require USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to restore on its website, without redactions, all animal welfare and horse protection inspection reports. 

The bill would provide $24.3 billion in FY20 for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $1 billion more than what was provided for the current year, for so-called “discretionary” programs, whose funding is determined by annual appropriations bills. Funding for other programs is mandated by the farm bill and other laws. 

“We increased funding for vital infrastructure in rural communities, including broadband, water and waste water, community facilities, and fund agricultural research that will keep American agriculture the best in the world,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop, the Georgia Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday.

As expected, the measure rejects White House proposals to slash spending for international food aid, agricultural research, rural development and other programs. 

The bill also proposes no cuts in farm bill conservation programs, which congressional appropriators frequently dip into to fund other priorities, 

Other highlights of the bill: 

  • An increase of $30 million is earmarked for implementing the 2018 farm bill. 
  • USDA’s research programs would receive  $3.3 billion,  $387 million more than President Trump requested.
  • Some $680 million would be provided for the expansion of rural broadband service.
  • The CFTC would be funded at $315 million, a $47 million increase from FY19 and the same amount the agency requested to bolster its market oversight.

It’s not clear that House Democrats can stop Perdue from moving the ERS and NIFA, given that he plans to announce the final site soon. The provisions in the House also will face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Critics praised the bill for attempting to stop the relocations. 

The provisions are “absolutely essential to protecting the integrity of these two research agencies, and we urge Senate appropriators to follow the same approach with their FY 2020 bill in the months ahead,” said Alyssa Charney, senior policy specialist for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

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