WASHINGTON, May 2, 2012-Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., “want to go to the floor as soon as we can” with the farm bill that the committee cleared last week, Senate Committee Counsel Anne Hazlett said Wednesday.

Addressing the 11th annual “stakeholders summit” of the Animal Agriculture Alliance in Arlington, Va., Hazlett said that “the dust is just starting to settle” after last week’s markup and that staffers “don’t have a definitive time frame to move to the floor.” But Stabenow and Roberts “have real concerns that the budget picture doesn't get any better as we move forward.” 

While anticipating floor activity involves some amount of guesswork, Hazlett said she would not be surprised to see an amendment offered to prevent meat packers from owning livestock. “Animal welfare is also likely to come up on the floor,” she said. At least one member may offer legislation to enact the proposal of the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States to spell out standards for egg-laying hens, she said.

“Antibiotics in livestock always comes up,” she added, referring to campaigns to limit or phase out the use of antimicrobial feed additives to promote livestock and poultry health. “There will be a new dynamic now, and we will have to see how the new FDA guidance plays out on the Senate floor.” Hazlett also raised the specter of an amendment that would affect agricultural commodity promotion checkoff programs, fallout from the misnamed “tax on Christmas trees” controversy. “Last fall, the sudden interest in checkoffs highlighted the fact that many folks don’t understand how checkoffs work. There may be unexpected surprises in the Senate.”

House Agriculture Committee staffer Pete Thompson warned that pressure from animal rights activists may lead to amendments offered to the farm bill on the House floor. “I don’t think that a lot of things that come from them [animal rights groups] are at the front of the minds of the members,” he said. “But if it goes to the floor with an open rule, they’ll have opportunity to come forward with their items.” He said that the biggest challenge for livestock producers to overcome is “the hundreds of calls from one side and only two from the other. It’s a problem.”

Thompson said the House committee was “in the midst of seven subcommittee hearings” on the farm bill. “We expect to complete the hearings in May and then assemble the chairman’s bill. The intent is to do markup in June.” He said he did not anticipate that the House committee would include a stand-alone livestock title, “but that decision will be made above my pay grade.”


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