WASHINGTON, May 18, 2016 - The Senate is moving a fiscal 2017 spending bill that would boost funding for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act by more than the White House requested. The measure, which was approved by the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday, also would provide $1.5 million to USDA to open an office in Cuba, a priority of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Funding for FSMA is a top issue for state agriculture departments and other agencies that will be responsible for much of the new inspections required by a series of new rules. The Senate bill would increase FSMA funding for the budget year that starts Oct. 1 by $40.2 million, $15 million more than President Obama requested. The House version contains an increase of $33 million.

Vilsack has argued that USDA needs to set up an office in Cuba to promote U.S products. The White House budget request said “USDA needs an in-country presence in Cuba to cultivate key relationships, gain firsthand knowledge of the countrys agricultural challenges and opportunities, and develop programs of mutual benefit to both countries.”

The Senate bill lacks some controversial provisions that are in the House version, including an amendment that would bar USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from issuing new marketing regulations for poultry and livestock operations.

The chairman of the subcommittee, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he hopes to include in a manager’s amendment a provision that would roll back a proposed USDA rule that would require convenience stores to offer a wider range of healthful foods if they accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The full Appropriations Committee will consider the bill and the manager’s amendment on Thursday. Moran said the committee also may debate amendments on labeling of GMO salmon, a priority issue for another committee member, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The subcommittee’s bill includes a provision that would bar the Food and Drug Administration from implementing new menu labeling requirements before next May, when they are currently scheduled to take effect.

Other highlights in the bill:

--It provides $150 million to USDA’s Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, the first funding it has received since 2010. “This vital infrastructure program protects lives and property, builds community resiliency to extreme weather events and reduces the need for federal disaster assistance,” according to the National Watershed Coalition.

---It funds incentives for military veterans to go into agriculture. Vilsack’s office would get $5 million for outreach to veterans and $2.5 million would go to the Food and Agriculture Resilience Program for Military Veterans (FARM-Vets) under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The bill also would waive Farm Service Agency loan application fees for veterans.

--It provides $1.18 billion for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, a $34 million increase over FY 2016. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative would receive $375 million, a $25 million increase. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program would be increased by $2.3 million.

-- The bill text has not been released, but the measure is expected to cap the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) at $1.35 billion, about $300 million below the level mandated by the farm bill, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The group “continues to assert that farm bill funding decisions should be left intact and not undone by appropriators, whose job is to allocate discretionary funding, not to rewrite legislation and change farm bill mandatory funding decisions.”


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com