WASHINGTON, May 17, 2016 - The USDA’s plan to tighten requirements on retailers that accept food stamps continues to generate more bipartisan animosity on Capitol Hill. Agri-Pulse reported last week that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway and ranking member Collin Peterson were collecting signatures for an opposition letter and it turns out they got 161 lawmakers to join them.

USDA officials say they are trying to force stores to sell healthier food, but lawmakers are worried that the requirements would force tens of thousands of convenience stores to stop accepting food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Peterson says large grocery stores aren’t always easily accessible to low-income consumers, leaving them to rely on “convenience stores and other small-format retailers. The proposed rule fails to take these circumstances into account.”

The proposed rule also faces opposition in the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee takes up its fiscal 2017 spending bill this afternoon, and Chairman Jerry Moran says the bill will contain wording to block the proposed SNAP requirements on retailers. 

Major study on biotech crops set for release. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is scheduled to release a broad report today that brings together a wide range of studies assessing the risks and benefits of biotech crops.  The report, titled “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects,” also will recommend new approaches to regulating biotech crops in the future. 

Stabenow sends proposal on GMO labeling bill to Roberts. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has sent “a full legislative proposal” to Chairman Pat Roberts on biotech disclosure, a spokesman for Stabenow says. 

Time is running out before the first state labeling law goes into effect in Vermont this July. “Stabenow and staff have also been in discussions with advocates on all sides of the issue for several weeks,” the spokesman says. 

House panel takes up bill on USDA child nutrition rules. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has scheduled what is certain to be a contentious debate on Wednesday over a Republican child nutrition reauthorization bill. The bill, which was released last month, would force the Agriculture Department to reconsider school meal standards every three years and roll back restrictions on snacks that were imposed under the expired Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

Democrats have renewed their criticism of the draft bill head of the debate. Some 111 House members signed a letter, saying that he bill would reduce access to meals in low-income communities. The GOP bill would tighten the “community eligibility" provision in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that allows schools with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan nutrition bill early this year but the full Senate has yet to debate the measure because of problems that developed with estimates of its cost. 

Huelskamp dissertation attacked subsidies, ag panels. The Topeka Capital-Journal has dug up a dissertation that Rep. Tim Huelskamp wrote as a critique of traditional farm policy 21 years ago. The Kansas Republican, who earned a doctorate in political science, argued that New Deal-era agriculture subsidies and price supports “ignored the productivity advances in the industry, not to mention any semblance of economic reality.”

Huelskamp referred to the House and Senate agriculture committees as “outlier panels” that “over-represent rural and agricultural interests.” Huelskamp was kicked off the House Agriculture Committee in 2012 after closing with GOP leaders. 

The congressman, who faces a GOP primary challenge, criticized the Capital-Journal for questioning him about the dissertation. 

OECD report says big changes are needed for food aid. A paradigm shift is desperately needed when it comes to international efforts to reduce hunger in the neediest areas of the world, according to a new report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Different regions have different needs and a one-size-fits-all approach often just doesn’t work, according to the report, “Adopting a Territorial Approach to Food Security and Nutrition Policy.”

More than 800 million people in developing countries don’t get enough to eat despite the billions of dollars in food aid given out every year, according to the OECD report. 

Aid programs need to be devised at the local level, using local assets that work for communities instead of plans that are devised at the highest levels of donor countries, the report concludes.

USDA forecasts record milk production next year. U.S. dairy farmers are now expected to produce a record-high 215 billion pounds of milk in 2017, USDA Outlook Board Chairman Seth Meyer said Monday. That would be an increase from the projected 212 billion pounds this year and 210 billion pounds in 2015.

But Meyer also said he doesn’t expect increased production to push down prices for farmers. Instead, thanks to tighter world supplies, Meyer said he expects prices to rise due to weaker imports and stronger exports. The average price farmers are forecast to get for their milk next year is $15.75 per hundredweight, up 90 cents from the average this year.

Pet illnesses tied to jerky treats on the decline. The FDA still hasn’t gotten to the bottom of the ten-year mystery of why chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats from China continue to make pets sick, but the agency says the rate of illnesses are declining.

Only 200 house pets got sick or died in the 16 months from September 2014 through December 2015, the FDA said. That’s down from 270 in a 6-month period between May and September of 2014.

FDA began the investigation in 2007. Since then 5,200 pet owners have reported illnesses that were linked to the jerky treats, most of which were imported from China. About 1,140 dogs have died.

Philip Brasher and Spencer Chase contributed to this report.

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