WASHINGTON, July 8, 2015 – The Agriculture appropriations bill that funds the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration has long offered a way for critics of farm programs to try to enact changes in policies. But they lost a chance to do that last year when GOP leaders pulled the bill off the floor during the debate on amendments. And it appears the bill may not even get to the floor this year. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made no mention of the Agriculture bill in a memo listing the measures that the House needed to act on before the August recess.
That would be a blow to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), which has been looking to use the bill to strike a blow at the sugar industry. The association, which has been battling sugar producers over its effort to protect high fructose corn syrup, is lobbying for an amendment to the agriculture bill to roll back supply restrictions that prop up sugar prices.
In 2013, an amendment that Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., proposed to the farm bill failed by a relatively narrow margin, 206-221. Pitts and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have introduced bills this year that are similar to that amendment (HR 1714 and S 475).
“We’re very hopeful that there will be floor consideration” for the Agriculture spending bill, says CRA President John Bode. “We’ll simply have to advocate according to what opportunities present themselves.”
There’s even less of a chance that the Agriculture bill will get to the floor in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to mark up the bill, and in any case Democrats say they will filibuster every appropriations measure until Republicans agree to raise spending levels.
CRA, whose members include Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle, has been embroiled in a long legal battle with sugar producers over its effort to re-brand HFCS as “corn sugar.” Sugar producers filed suit in 2011, accusing the corn refiners of misleading the public by promoting HFCS as nutritionally identical to sugar.
Bode insists his group’s decision to attack the sugar program isn’t about the legal battle over HFCS but is instead rooted in concern that the sugar program threatens to reduce public support for other farm programs.
In the last half of 2013, after the farm bill vote, USDA spent $173 million buying up surplus sugar and diverting the surplus into ethanol production and animal feed, according to the Congressional Research Service. The authority for the purchases came from a 2008 farm bill provision that was intended to avert forfeitures of sugar to the government.
“The reason we’re doing this is we have a policy difference. The policy is primary,” Bode said. He said the government should ensure “there is a high level of confidence of nutrition policy recommendations even if it means a leaner set of recommendations.”
The American Sugar Alliance said in a statement to Agri-Pulse that “it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if any members of the agricultural community were actively working to re-open the farm bill and aiding agriculture’s opponents in their quest to gut the safety net on which all U.S. farmers depend.”
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