Some leading lawmakers and one of the top CEOs in ag industry will have prominent places today at the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

After President Biden kicks off the conference with remarks, Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice is hosting a conversation with the conference’s leading proponent, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Senate Agriculture Committee members Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, is moderating a panel discussion on ways to help local food systems offer nutritious food and support farmers and ranchers.

Erin Fitzgerald, CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action, is leading a panel discussion on making it easier for people to access affordable foods.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is speaking during the conference’s afternoon session.

By the way: Aside from Conner, farm groups don’t have a prominent role on the agenda, and neither do food companies. But Shane Grant, CEO of Danone North America, will appear in a panel discussion with Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, on the topic of  “enabling healthier choices where people shop, work and play.”

Vilsack: This is just the start

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tells Agri-Pulse that the conference is just the start of the long effort it will take to implement the recommendations in the White House’s national stagey for reducing hunger and diet-related diseases.

He notes that the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program wasn’t created until seven years after the first White House hunger conference in 1969. “What these conferences do is it elevates the topic,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture meeting in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Boozman: White House should have reached out

The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, says the White House should have sought broader input from lawmakers.

Proposals to expand SNAP and school meal eligibility would have to go through the Senate Ag Committee, as would some of the recommendations to increase incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables.

“While there are issues raised in it that we can address on a bipartisan basis, much of what has been proposed reflects one party’s priorities,” Boozman said in a statement.

“The president needs congressional support to turn a number of these proposals into law, and with Congress closely divided, that takes reaching across the aisle. The lift becomes much heavier when the product lacks the bipartisan input it deserves.”

Senate Ag advances nominees

The Senate Ag Committee has approved a trio of pending nominees, including Alexis Taylor, President Biden’s pick to serve as undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural services at USDA.

Also approved were Jose Emilio Esteban, to be USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, and Vince Garfield Logan, nominated to be a member of the board for the Farm Credit Administration.

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse!

By the way: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has a hold on the nomination of Doug McKalip to be the chief agricultural trade negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Permitting reforms dropped in funding showdown

A continuing resolution that’s needed to avert a partial government shutdown advanced on a 72-23 procedural vote in the Senate Tuesday evening after the measure was stripped of permitting reforms sought by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The CR, which would keep the government funded until Dec. 16, includes an extension of authority for USDA’s mandatory livestock price reporting system. The new fiscal year starts Saturday.

Baldwin introduces bill to update rail service obligations

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., has introduced a bill to expand the “common carrier obligation” governing railroads. The measure also would give the Surface Transportation Board additional criteria to consider in overseeing the industry.

The common carrier obligation is a 40-year-old rule that requires railroads to provide “transportation or service on reasonable request.” That means companies can’t simply deny service because it would be inconvenient or unprofitable.

The bill would require railroads to provide service “in a manner that meets the shipper’s need for timely, efficient, and reliable rail service and fulfills the shipper’s reasonable service requirements.”

The bill also provides additional criteria for the Surface Transportation Board to consider when looking at rail cases, including the impacts of reductions or changes in the frequency of service.

Take note: The bill is backed by an array of ag groups, including the National Grain and Feed Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Enviro group goes after RFS on endangered species

EPA’s failure to examine the impact of renewable fuels development on endangered species is a serious-enough violation to warrant withdrawal the biofuel usage mandates going back to 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity said in court papers filed Tuesday.

A brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit says that the increased biofuel targets will worsen “water pollution and habitat loss, harming threatened and endangered species including pallid sturgeon, whooping crane, sea turtles, and dozens of other species dependent on healthy river ecosystems and ever-shrinking native grasslands."

EPA hasn’t completed interagency consultation required under the Endangered Species Act, the group says.

He said it. “Everything can be improved. It's not like we've perfected the county committee structure.” - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the Equity Commission proposal to consider replacing the existing county committee system.

Questions, comments, tips? Email