WASHINGTON, April 19, 2016 - House appropriators preserved a $3 million plan to promote consumer acceptance of biotech food and narrowly agreed to block the Agriculture Department from issuing new regulations on poultry and livestock contract practices.

The House Appropriations Committee, debating its fiscal 2017 spending bill for USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, also approved an amendment to extend a ban on the slaughter of horses. 

The committee, which approved the bill on a voice vote, also voted to delay the FDA’s issuance of guidance to food companies on reducing sodium content and to bar the CFTC from lowering the $8 billion threshold in trading activity for being required to register as a swap dealer. 

It is rare for the appropriations committees to get involved in the debate over agricultural biotechnology, but Republicans hope to use the legislation to improve consumer views on GMOs. 

The top Democrat on the House committee, New York Rep. Nita Lowey, called for stripping the $3 million promotion initiative from the bill, arguing that the science on the safety of GMOs is still unsettled. But the amendment failed, 20-29, when only one Republican, Jaime Herrera-Beutler of Washington, supported it.

“We need to be on the side of transparency and the safety of people we represent,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat.

Report language that accompanies the bill calls on FDA and USDA to start posting information on such things as the safety and benefits of GMOs on their websites and social media within 60 days of the spending bill’s enactment. That may not come until late in the year, however, and the proposal is likely to face strong resistance from Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

“We need to avoid consumer confusion,” said Robert Aderholt, the Alabama Republican who chairs the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. “FDA, USDA need to play a key role in making sure that science-based educational information is publicly available.” 

The committee voted, 26-24, to head off the contract regulations being prepared by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). Congress last year failed to renew a longstanding prohibition on the regulations, which would aim to protect growers from what many consider processors’ unfair practices. 

USDA officials say the new regulations could be proposed this summer. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said the regulations threaten to upset the chicken industry tournament pricing system whereby a portion of the payments to farms is based on the quality of the grown birds. 

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the tournament system is unfair to growers who receive varying qualities feed and chicks. But Harris said there is a waiting list of growers for contracts. 

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, provided a key, but lone Democratic vote for the amendment. Five Republicans voted against it. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation joined groups such as the National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in opposing the Harris amendment. The National Chicken Council and National Pork Producers Council supported it.

"USDA seems to be seeking a solution in search of a problem. Let's call this what it is – the administration ignoring the will of Congress and handing a gift to trial lawyers heading out the door,” the National Chicken Council said. 

The FDA’s sodium guidelines for food manufacturers would be delayed under the committee-adopted amendment until the Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Medicine finish a dietary reference intake report on sodium. Harris, a physician, argued that the FDA guidelines are premature because research is showing that people have differing needs and tolerance for sodium.