WASHINGTON, April 5, 2016 - Senators are talking again about a possible compromise on the biotech labeling issue, but no breakthrough appears imminent. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, is still the key to any deal. 

She and Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts didn’t talk about the issue over the Senate’s two-week recess, but they sat and talked for about 20 minutes on the Senate floor yesterday evening. Afterwards, Stabenow discussed the issue some more with another small group of senators that included North Dakota Republican John Hoeven. 

Roberts says he came away believing that Stabenow was committed to offering some new language. “I just said I need language,” Roberts said. Hoeven says Stabenow offered some ideas that he plans to discuss with other Republicans. He didn’t say what Stabenow was proposing, but Democrats have been insisting that products with biotech ingredients include some kind of special symbol or wording on the package labels. 

Stabenow wasn’t available for comment.

Roberts says he’s optimistic about moving a compromise reauthorization bill for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as soon as next week. Stabenow has been holding the line against GOP efforts to use the CFTC measure to roll back requirements of the Dodd-Frank law. 

Dairyland showdown. Voters in Wisconsin go to the polls today in what will be the last major contest before the New York primary in two weeks. On the GOP side, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has continued to maintain a solid lead over Donald Trump in polls of dairy state voters over the past week. Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been trading places at the top of the recent polls in the Democratic race. 

On Capitol Hill today, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee holds a hearing on barriers to military veterans who want to get into farming or ranching. The witnesses will include retired Army Col. Gary LaGrange, who leads a program in Kansas called SAVE Farm for transitioning military members into agriculture. The program offers training and therapy and is developing a model farm. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairs the subcommittee.

Spring planting time at the White House. School kids from Wisconsin, Colorado and Louisiana will be joining First Lady Michelle Obama this afternoon for what will be her final spring planting of the White House Kitchen Garden.

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman and Astronaut Cady Coleman will also be on hand to help plant a variety of lettuce that has been grown on the International Space Station. Later this week, the first lady will head to Georgia and New Jersey to help plant school gardens. 

Trade secrets bill heads to House. Biotech companies and other corporations who are looking for new tools to protect trade secrets are going to have to put some pressure on the House. The Senate yesterday voted 87-0 to approve the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which would allow companies to file civil claims directly in federal courts. A similar measure is pending in the House but there has been no committee action. A spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee says the committee’s priority is protecting American intellectual property from theft by foreign agents.

EPA criticized over billboard. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts says a billboard in Washington state exemplifies how the Environmental Protection Agency “has an agenda antagonistic to producers.” The billboard reportedly was funded by an EPA grant and carries the message, “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.”

“While there are legal concerns with the lack of disclosure of EPA’s involvement, the billboard is another example of EPA’s improper practice of encouraging the lobbying of legislators,” Roberts says.

White House warns on food, ag effect of climate change. Most of the debate about climate change and agriculture has focused on the impact on crops of precipitation changes, higher temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide levels. But President Obama’s top science adviser, John Holdren, suggests that hotter summers also could exacerbate farm labor problems.

“In some parts of the year, it will be physiologically impossible to work outdoors” in the U.S. That means agriculture” will be affected, Holdren said at a White House event yesterday on the impact of climate change on public health. 

A White House report says rising carbon dioxide would lower the nutritional content of food and that climate change would increase the exposure of food to various pathogens and toxins.

Grassley 'a living laboratory.' Sen. Chuck Grassley tried to sell a group of German legislators on the safety of GMOs by eating a kernel of biotech corn. The Iowa Republican posted an Instagram photo of himself and the four lawmakers. In the caption, Grassley says he ate the corn kernel to prove the quality of the seed. “I'm a living laboratory. This counteracts Euro(pean) opposition to GMO,” Grassley wrote. 


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