The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2020 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration that creates a new hurdle for biotech salmon and sets up a fight with the House over relocating two USDA research agencies.
The bill, which was approved on a voice vote Thursday, also would provide money for several small programs in the 2018 farm bill, including a dairy industry development program.
In a new twist on the biotech labeling wars, the bill would require a study of the impact on salmon consumers of USDA’s new bioengineered labeling rules before the fish can be marketed. The provision was sought by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has long worked for restrictions on the sale of the genetically engineered salmon, developed by AquaBounty Technologies.
The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Murkowski had the votes to get the provision approved as an amendment to the bill had he not included it in the legislation.
The bill would deepen the fight over relocating USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Kansas City by providing $25 million to carry out the move. The money would pay for salaries as well as the costs of altering and repairing buildings. Some $15.5 million would be earmarked for the ERS, with the rest set aside for NIFA.
The House-passed bill that funds USDA would instead prohibit Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from carrying out the relocation, which the department started this summer. The differences will have to be settled during negotiations this fall on a final version of the funding bill.
The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, objected to the ERS-NIFA funding provision but didn’t try to block the bill.
The bill would provide $20 million for a new Dairy Business Innovation Initiative, which was authorized by the farm bill. USDA is required to set up at least three regionally located dairy business innovation initiatives to expand regional milk production and diversify dairy markets.
The FY20 bill has an additional $1 million Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive projects authorized by the 2018 farm law to promote milk consumption.
Also in the bill is a provision directing USDA to implement a rule that would require the agency to modify the origin of livestock requirements for organic dairy cows. USDA has never finalized changes proposed by the Obama administration in 2015. The House legislation has a similar provision.
Some $5 million is earmarked in the bill for the wetland mitigation banking program, which was made permanent under the 2014 farm bill.
Senate Appropriations member Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said she would push House and Senate negotiators to provide more money for USDA's Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which funds mental health services. The bill earmarks $3 million for the program, but Baldwin is seeking the full $10 million a year authorized by the farm bill. She said there was an "urgent and widespread need for these resources."
The House and Senate also will have to resolve differing spending levels in the Agriculture bills.
Under the Senate spending bill, spending for discretionary programs, those programs that are subject to annual appropriations, would be funded at $23.1 billion, slightly above the fiscal 2019 level.
The House-passed version of the bill is funded at just under $24 billion, not counting funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The House includes the CFTC in its version of the Agriculture bill, but the Senate funds the CFTC through its Financial Services bill.
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