WASHINGTON, April 19, 2016 - House appropriators meet today to discuss the committee’s draft report which would instruct FDA and USDA on how to spend $3 million to help educate consumers and promote acceptance of biotech crops, as well as food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology.
The agencies are told to start posting information on websites and social media within 60 days of the bill’s enactment. The language underscores the urgency the industry says is needed to help consumers understand the benefits of biotechnology before Vermont’s GMO labeling law takes effect this summer. 
Appropriators also focus on poultry, livestock and cottonseed. The House Appropriations Committee will also discuss whether to stop USDA from issuing new regulations on poultry and livestock contracts. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., says he’s confident that the GOP-controlled committee will approve his amendment reinstating a prohibition on new rules that was lifted only in December. 
The amendment faces stiff Democratic resistance from committee Democrats and in the Senate. 
Also in the non-binding report language that the committee will consider along with the fiscal 2017 Agriculture spending bill are instructions that would encourage - but not require - USDA to make cottonseed eligible for farm program payments. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has already said that he doesn’t have the legal authority to do that.
Because of Vilsack’s stance, House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway has said he thinks the most likely source of help for cotton growers is a one-year payment for ginning costs.
Mexico lifts poultry bans on 14 U.S. states. After months of lobbying by U.S. officials, Mexico has lifted its ban on poultry from 14 states, leaving in place just one on products from Indiana, the USDA announced Monday evening.
“This is a result of USDA’s close communications with Mexico to reduce trade restrictions imposed due to [avian influenza] detections in the United States,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The Mexican decision to lift the bans is significant because the country has been the largest market for U.S. poultry exports over the past five years. The U.S. managed to ship $1.2 billion worth of poultry to Mexico last year, despite barriers that went up after several outbreaks of avian influenza.
The biggest headache for USDA officials has been countries that throw up nationwide bans on U.S. poultry instead of localized prohibitions that address only areas that have been hit by the virus. Some countries, like China, continue to maintain blanket bans, but Vilsack said Tuesday that USDA has made progress in convincing many countries to use only the regional bans.
SBA definition seen hurting family farms. The House is taking up a bill today that aims to make it easier for farms to qualify for numerous federal benefits. Supporters of the bill say that the legal definition that the Small Business Administration uses for a small agricultural producer makes it harder for farms to qualify for contracts and many forms of federal assistance.
Under a law that passed in 2000, a small farm is defined as having less than $750,000 in annual receipts. Farm groups say that’s way outdated. University of Illinois economist Nick Paulson told the House Small Business Committee that a 3,000-acre corn and soybean farm would have qualified under that definition in 2000, more than twice the size operation that would now be covered. 
The legislation would require SBA to update the standard through a rule-making process the same as it does for other business sectors. Farm groups say the definition also is important for ensuring that regulators analyze the impact of new rules on agriculture. 
Legal challenge emerges for Massachusetts animal cage petition. A proposed Massachusetts petition to ban the sale of eggs, pork and veal that were produced from animals that were “confined in a cruel manner” is getting a legal challenge. The Protect the Harvest Action Fund will be announcing today that a farmer – James Dunn - and an anti-poverty activist – Diane Sullivan - will be the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed with the Massachusetts Superior Court that seeks to stop the petition that would “prevent animal cruelty by phasing out extreme methods of farm animal confinement.”
The petition, supported by The Humane Society of the U.S., the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and others would push up the prices of eggs, veal and pork and have the greatest impact on the poor, said Brian Klippenstein, executive director of Protect the Harvest Action Fund.
“California passed a similar law in 2008 and, upon its implementation in 2015, saw immediate increases in egg prices combined with shortages in eggs and foods made with eggs,” the Fund said.
DuPont Pioneer announces gene-edited corn. The USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Service has concluded that it doesn’t need to regulate the planting of a waxy corn being developed by DuPont Pioneer, the company announced Tuesday.
It will be the first DuPont Pioneer commercial product developed with the CRISPR-Cas gene editing technology. The company said that "this next generation of elite waxy corn hybrids is expected to be available to U.S. growers within five years, pending field trails and regulatory reviews." Said the company: "Waxy corn produces a high amylopectin starch content, which is milled for a number of everyday consumer food and non-food uses including processed foods, adhesives and high-gloss paper.”

Cuban grain importers visit USDA. A group of visiting Cuban corn buyers sat down today with officials from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington D.C. FAS officials were not available for immediate comment on what exactly was discussed, but U.S. Grains Council Chairman Alan Tiemann said: “We are continuing to assess how to best serve Cuba’s needs as its economy shifts and restrictions begin to fall. The team’s visits this week will help establish relationships and provide them basic information about the U.S. grain buying system that is essential to enhance U.S. competitiveness.”
Today the Cuban delegation will be traveling to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to check out chicken processing facilities and Agri-Pulse’s own Spencer Chase will be covering that leg of their trip to the U.S. After Maryland, the Cubans are heading to St. Louis and New Orleans.


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