WASHINGTON, April 30, 2015 – The House Agriculture Committee has advanced bills to ensure that export grain inspections continue during labor disputes and that a government shutdown won’t halt the Agriculture Department’s livestock market reports again.

The bills, which reauthorize federal grain standards and the livestock reporting laws, were crafted to deal with disruptions that have frustrated the grain and livestock industries in recent years. Both the grain and livestock programs would be extended through Sept. 30, 2020, under the legislation. Both measures were approved on voice votes. 

The committee is expected to take up a bill next month to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and roll back some Dodd-Frank regulations.

The grain standards bill (HR 2088) sets up a process to avoid a repeat of what happened last year at Washington’s Port of Vancouver when state inspectors refused to go to work during a labor demonstration, citing safety concerns. Washington is one of five states where state agencies conduct export inspections under authority of USDA.

Under the bill, grain companies could request that inspectors from one of the other four states step in and do the work if the host state inspectors won’t. The bill, however, would not allow companies to use private inspectors.

“It is imperative that these services are provided in a reliable, uninterrupted, consistent and cost-effective manner,” said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service directly inspects about two-thirds of exported grain, including shipments through Louisiana and Texas, and delegates the work to state agencies in five states: Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. USDA declined to intervene in the shutdown of Washington inspections, citing the same safety issue.

[Watching for House Ag Committee news? Agri-Pulse is the place to find it. Sign up for a four-week free trial subscription.] 

The South Carolina inspection agency offered to take over the inspections in Washington but was turned down.

In a joint statement, the National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association said they were pleased that there was a process for ensuring continuous inspections but disappointed that it wouldn’t allow for private inspectors.

“Utilizing these talented professionals would further strengthen the U.S. official grain inspection system, a point we'll continue to make as this legislation is further considered on its way to final enactment by Congress," the group said. The Senate Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on the issue next Tuesday.

The livestock price reporting bill (HR 2051) would designate the system as an essential government service, ensuring that it would continue in operation when a lapse in appropriations forces other parts of USDA to close temporarily.

“The current program is working well, but as we saw in 2013, a government shutdown disrupted reporting, and this bill makes mandatory reporting essential in case we ever find ourselves in a similar situation,” said Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

The bill also would require USDA to conduct a study by 2020 on industry marketing practices and to recommend further legislative or regulatory changes that should be made in the price reporting system.

The bill includes changes requested by pork and lamb producers in their sectors' reports.

The changes to hog reports include expand the reporting of negotiated sales. Hogs that are sold according to a formula negotiated on a lot-by-lot basis aren’t reported currently as negotiated trades. Under the bill, they would be listed under a separate category.

According to the National Pork Producers Council, while such sales would represent about 2 to 4 percent of total sales, they would increase the number of negotiated hogs subject to reporting by 50 percent to 100 percent.

Cattle producers and meatpackers are in discussions about changes that could be added to the bill later, Conaway said.