WASHINGTON, May 15, 2016 - Senate appropriators look to step up pressure on the Agriculture Department to back off from tightening regulations for convenience stores that accept food stamps, and there also could be a fight this week over proposed new restrictions for organic livestock operations.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will meet Tuesday to advance a fiscal 2017 spending bill for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. The panel chairman, Jerry Moran, said he wants tol include a provision targeting proposed new standards for retail stores that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “That’s a rural issue to me,” the Kansas Republican said. An aide said later that Moran hoped to include the provision in a manager's amendment. 

Convenience store owners and industry representatives say the rule would force tens of thousands of retailers to stop accepting SNAP. The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment to its version of the 2017 Agriculture spending bill that would block USDA from finalizing the rule.

The rule would increase the amount of single-ingredient foods like fruit, vegetables and meat that SNAP-eligible stores must offer.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to debate the Agriculture bill on Thursday, and the organic industry is bracing for a fight over a proposed rule that, among other things, would require laying hens to have year-round access to an outdoor area with “at least 50-percent soil cover.” The use of covered porches wouldn’t meet the requirement.

A draft amendment obtained by Agri-Pulse would bar USDA from finalizing the rule unless an independent study verified that it wouldn’t increase organic food prices significantly or disrupted farming operations.

The Organic Trade Association says Congress should leave the rule alone, arguing that it would “hamstring” USDA’s National Organic Program, “and would set a very dangerous precedent for organic” agriculture.

The rule also would ban debeaking of chickens and turkeys and tail docking of cattle and sheep.

The Agriculture bill is expected to omit some controversial provisions included in the House version, including $3 million earmarked for promoting the safety of biotech foods to consumers and an amendment that would bar USDA from finalizing new marketing and contracting regulations for poultry and livestock operations.

The Senate bill is expected to be on the Senate floor in June, and will likely be debated along with the Commerce-Justice-Science measure, Moran said.

Also this week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will release a sweeping report analyzing what’s known about the safety and impact of genetically engineered crops and the prospects for new biotech techniques.

The study, which will be released Tuesday, also is supposed to lay out the uncertainties and information gaps that still exist about the safety and economic and environmental impact of genetically engineered crops and food.

The timing of the report couldn’t be more important, given that it comes as leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are still negotiating on an agreement to preempt state GMO labeling laws and set national disclosure standards for foods with biotech ingredients.

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday will hold a hearing on the Farm Credit System. 

At a House Agriculture Committee hearing last fall,  lawmakers sharply questioned the chairman and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, Kenneth Spearman, about the size and scope of Farm Credit lending. Spearman will be the lead witness at Thursday’s Senate hearing.

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Leonard Wolfe, chairman, president and CEO of the United Bank and Trust in Marysville, Kansas, home state of committee Chairman Pat Roberts, will be pressing the American Banking Association’s longstanding concerns that the Farm Credit System has been exceeding its authority. 

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, May 16

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is in Peru through Tuesday to discuss environmental enforcement efforts and participate in APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade meetings.

All day - FDA public meeting on animal drug user fees, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Rockville, Maryland.

1 p.m. - U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2016 Sustainability Forum, 1615 H Street, NW.

4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report.

Tuesday, May 17

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell report on preparations for the 2016 fire season.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, “Focus on the Farm Economy: Impacts of Environmental Regulations and Voluntary Conservation Solutions,” 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Army Corps of Engineers chief’s reports, 2167 Rayburn.

11 a.m. - National Academy of Sciences releases report, “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects,” 500 5th St. NW.

4 p.m. - Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee markup of the fiscal 2017 Agriculture bill for USDA and FDA.

Wednesday, May 18

9 a.m. - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on EPA employee misconduct, 2154 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture Committee hearing, “Service in the Field: Veteran Contributions to National Food Security,” 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the Ozone Standards Implementation Act (HR 4775), 2123 Rayburn.

11 a.m. - Feeding the 5000 DC conference on food waste, Ronald Reagan Building. Vilsack is among the speakers.

Thursday, May 19

Building a Healthier Future 2016, conference sponsored by Partnership for a Healthier America, through Friday, Renaissance Washington 

Vilsack speaks at the World Trade Day Conference in Denver, Colo. 

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

10:15 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, “The Farm Credit System: Oversight and Outlook of the Current Economic Climate,” 328A Russell.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the FY17 Agriculture bill, 106 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. - Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on declining deportations, 226 Dirksen.

Friday, May 20

Building a Healthier Future 2016. 
(Updates May 17 with aide saying SNAP provision may be in manager's amendment.)


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