WASHINGTON, April 13, 2016 - Lawmakers advanced spending bills that seek to boost acceptance of GMOs, fight agricultural pests and boost spending on waterways critical for exports of farm commodities. 

House Appropriations subcommittees on Thursday approved an Agriculture spending bill to fund the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration for fiscal 2017 and an Energy-Water measure that includes the Army Corps of Engineers. The Senate’s version of the Energy-Water bill was also advanced by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. 

The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey of New York, objected to a provision in the Agriculture bill that would earmark $3 million to promote acceptance of GMOs among consumers. The “verdict is still out on GMOs,” Lowey said. 

The provision comes as several major food companies are beginning to label their products for biotech ingredients to comply with a Vermont law that takes effect in July. The biotech provision is likely to be especially controversial in the Senate, since labeling proponent Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the senior Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee.

The Agriculture bill also includes targeted funding increases for rural development, research, implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and to fight citrus greening, avian influenza and other plant and animal threats.

The bill also would fund administration efforts to curb antibiotic resistance, including $10 million for USDA to start monitoring resistance levels on farms. 

The added research spending includes a $25 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. 

FDA would receive an increase of more than $33 million for FSMA implementation; President Obama had requested $25 million in new spending to implement FSMA.The House bill would make state extension services responsible for educating farmers about compliance with a new produce safety rule, not the FDA.

The full Appropriations committee will debate the bill next Tuesday.

Both the Senate and House Energy-Water bills would reject a $1.4 billion cut that Obama’s 2017 budget proposed for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works. program. 

“There is not a funding line in the budget that more U.S. senators ask us to increase funding for more than the Corps of Engineers,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee. “If we had simply approved the president’s request, the Corps would receive less than what Congress appropriated in 2006, setting us back more than a decade.” 

The House bill allocates a total of $6.1 billion to the Corps, a $100 million bump over last year. The Senate comes in just under that at $6 billion, according to a summary from Democrat subcommittee staff. The full text of the Senate bill was not scheduled to be released until Thursday.

American Soybean Association President Richard Wilkins said the Energy-Water  bills look to be “very positive with regard to soybean farmer priorities.” 

The Corps of Engineers' budget funds repairs and maintenance along the inland waterways, an infrastructure system used to move a good deal of grain for eventual export. 

Alexander and subcommittee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the Senate bill contains no policy riders, but provisions in the House bill include one that would stop the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing their “waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule. The rule is currently on hold pending court challenges. 

Lowey, the top Democrat on House Appropriations, said an appropriations bill is “not the place to amend or significantly change the Clean Water Act.” 

The House bill also contains controversial California drought provisions that follow language in a House-passed measure introduced by California Republican David Valadao. 

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Feinstein has introduced California drought legislation of her own, but says it won’t be in the Senate bill because she thinks it “doesn’t really belong on the appropriations bill.” The ranking member of the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee, Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said the California drought riders “further complicate an already difficult process.” 

The provisions would essentially overturn biological opinions issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Those opinions are supposed to prevent state and federal water projects from harming federally listed Delta smelt or salmonids.

In a statement, Valadao said his bill's language "offers the Senate another avenue to pursue so that both chambers may come to an agreement.”

The Senate version of the bill is expected to be on the Senate floor next week.


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