WASHINGTON, July 12, 2012- Near the end of the 15-hourlong markup of its 2012 farm bill legislation slated to save $35 billion, the House Agriculture Committee accepted two Miscellaneous Title amendments designed to limit or monitor USDA regulations.
The committee adopted a 90-day deadline for USDA to report details of the steps it will take to ensure the United States is in compliance with the decision of the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, offered the bill that members accepted with 34 votes in favor and 12 votes against. The language requires USDA to turn in a report on COOL compliance progress 90 days after the date of enactment.
While Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., said the deadline will give beef and pork producers “some peace of mind to know USDA is working to protect them from retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called the measure unnecessary.
“I don’t think there’s any need to put this in the farm bill,” Peterson said, noting that USDA is already working to comply with the WTO. “I don’t see any reason to put an arbitrary 90-day date on it.”
The COOL measure, launched in the 2008 Farm Bill, requires country of origin labeling for beef and pork, among other products. Canada and Mexico challenged the measure in 2008, claiming it discriminates in favor of U.S. products. In June, the WTO final ruling confirmed the United States’ right to require labeling, but agreed that U.S. COOL provides "less favourable treatment to imported Canadian cattle and hogs."
Although Neugebauer said the inclusion of a reporting deadline in the farm bill is reasonable and aims to provide some certainty, National Farmers Union (NFU) President of Government Relations Chandler Goule said the amendment is designed to make full repeal of COOL requirements easier down the road.
“It’s a ploy to get language into the farm bill so the producer-packer organizations can dismantle the country of origin labeling law behind closed doors,” Goule said, noting that the language could serve long-term goals to dismantle the COOL law within conference.
Notably passed with a voice vote instead of a roll call, the committee also adopted a repeal of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rulemaking. Reps. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif. sponsored the repeal bill that prevents the GIPSA from doing any further work on its rule enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill, but scaled back by Congress, that monitors the dealings between meatpackers and producers.
Supporters of the repeal believe that within the GIPSA regulations, USDA extended its reach beyond what Congress intended in the 2008 Farm Bill, but several farm groups attest that compromises reached in the final rule allow USDA to protect livestock and poultry farmers. Goule insisted the repeal amendment would increase concentration and decrease competition for family farms in the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industry.
Costa called the repeal an attempt to address the over reach of USDA, but Ranking Member Peterson said the action is “opening up on big can of worms.” He noted that the Senate would not take up the amendment language, “whatever happens.”
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