WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 - The Food and Drug Administration would get $3 million to promote “understanding and acceptance” of agricultural biotechnology to consumers, under a provision in the House’s draft Agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal 2017.

The bill, which the House Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to vote on today, would require FDA to work with the Agriculture Department on the distribution of “science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian benefits” of genetically engineered products.

The provision comes as food companies are starting to label biotech products to comply with a Vermont law that takes effect July 1. Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee reached an impasse last month on a bill that would preempt the Vermont law and there has been no sign of progress on the issue since then.

The Agriculture spending bill, which funds FDA, USDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, would authorize $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, spending that is not mandated by the farm bill and other laws. That is $451 million below what was provided for fiscal 2016 and $281 million less than what President Obama requested for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

Despite the overall cut, the bill would actually boost spending in several areas, including for FDA’s implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and for rural development programs at USDA. FDA would receive an increase of $33 million for FSMA implementation; Obama had requested $25.3 million in new spending to implement FSMA, $11 million of which would go to states for enforcing the produce safety rule.

The legislation would increase funding for rural development programs by $113 million, including an increase of nearly $26 million for grants and loans to expand and improve rural broadband service. The Value Added Producer Grant Program would be increased by $4.25 million to $15 million in 2017.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would receive an increase of $29.6 million to address outbreaks of citrus greening and avian influenza and to manage antibiotic resistance.

Funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would be unchanged from fiscal 2016 at $250 million, $80 million less than Obama requested.

To fund increased spending, the appropriators are once again seeking to cut the 2014 farm bill’s mandated spending levels for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program. The combination in cuts also would reduce funding for the Resource Conservation Partnership Program by $46.5 million, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The bill also would extend school nutrition provisions that would delay a reduction in sodium limits and allow financially strapped schools to get a waiver from USDA’s current whole grain requirement.

Both the House and Senate also begin today moving their respective FY17 Energy-Water appropriations bills that fund the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies.

The Senate version of the Energy-Water bill hasn’t been released, but the House’s draft bill revives a provision that would block the administration from implementing its “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, which is currently on hold because of court challenges.

The bill also includes several provisions designed to help farmers and communities in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. The provisions, which are based on language from California GOP Rep. David Valadao's Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015 would give managers of the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project more flexibility to pump water for farms.

But the language likely faces stiff opposition in the Senate because the legislation would essentially overturn biological opinions issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. Those opinions govern operation of the state and federal water projects so that they do not jeopardize the continued existence of federally listed Delta smelt or salmonids.

One provision would bar the Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing any new requirements under the opinions that would reduce the amount of water available to the state and Central Valley projects. Any provisions designed to get around the opinions will likely be opposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Lawmakers are getting an earlier start than usual on appropriations bills this year because of the shortened congressional calendar due to the national party conventions in July. The Senate’s Energy-Water bill is expected to be on the Senate floor next week. The Senate’s Agriculture appropriations bill will likely be marked up in subcommittee at the end of this month.


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