WASHINGTON, May 20, 2016 - Negotiations are heating up in the Senate over labeling biotech foods, but it looks like a final agreement may have to wait until next month. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts tells Agri-Pulse he’s “very hopeful” he can reach a deal with the committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow, after their discussions this week. Roberts says he and Stabenow are now vetting proposals with industry groups.

Stabenow, however, tells Agri-Pulse she doesn’t think an agreement can be reached before Congress breaks May 28th for its week-long congressional recess. That would give the Senate less than a month to enact legislation before Vermont’s GMO labeling law takes effect July 1. 

According to Roberts and another Senate source, there are still several issues to be resolved, including an exemption for animal feed. The industry is seeking a clear exemption in the legislation for labeling animal products. “That is one of the areas that we’ve just got to get worked out,” Roberts says. 

Another issue is the definition of small business. One idea being floated, according a source, is to allow small businesses to put a phone number on their labels instead of a smartphone. But then there’s the question of how you define a small business.

A third issue is how to prevent consumer protection laws from being used to force the on-package labeling of biotech foods. 

Farm Credit pressed on GMO labeling impact. During an Agriculture Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Thom Tillis raised the possibility that mandatory GMO labeling could push farmers into financial problems. 

The North Carolina Republican asked a group of Farm Credit Administration officials whether they had considered the impact on farm lending if food companies reformulate their products to stop using biotech ingredients. Food companies “will find other sourcing inputs,” Tillis said. 

The Farm Credit officials didn’t respond to the question, but the committee’s chairman thought it was a good point. “Reformulation is a pretty fancy word for ‘We ain’t gonna buy what you are selling,” and that is happening today with the sugar beet producers,” said Roberts. 

Biotech salmon wins in Canada, loses in Senate. AquaBounty Technologies won approval yesterday in Canada for its genetically engineered salmon. But the company got bad news in Congress the very same day as the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment requiring mandatory labeling of the fish. 

A joint statement by Canada’s health and food safety agencies said the salmon was as “safe and nutritious for humans” as the conventional salmon. 

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing the labeling requirement for biotech salmon for several years because of concern about its impact on her state’s fishing industry.

The fiscal 2017 spending bill that contains the labeling requirement also would authorize a pilot program at USDA to supplement payments to farmers who believe they were shortchanged by the Agriculture Risk Coverage program. Another provision would roll back USDA’s proposed new requirements for convenience stores that accept SNAP benefits. 

USDA blasted the SNAP provision as unwarranted but said it is still evaluating the ARC measure to see how it would work. 

U.S. to press Vietnam, Japan on TPP implementation during Obama trip.President Barack Obama’s trip to Vietnam and Japan next week will be a chance for U.S. trade officials to continue to press leaders there to make progress on ratifying and implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The White House wants to show Congress that TPP member countries like Vietnam and Japan are living up to promises under the pact.

“Normally after Congress approves a trade agreement, then we turn to the implementation process” with the other countries, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters. “In this case, we’ve decided to accelerate that, in consultation with Congress. We are already working with the countries on steps they’ll need to take to bring themselves into compliance with TPP.”

USA Rice not swayed on TPP. The U.S. International Trade Commissionreport  on the TPP has confirmed rice growers’ fears that they won’t benefit from the 12-nation agreement. 

According to the ITC, U.S. rice exports would decline because Mexico would lift tariffs on Vietnamese rice, taking away an advantage the U.S. has long enjoyed. The USA Rice Federation has withheld its support for the TPP, and the group says that position “appears to be validated” by the ITC report.

Regulations still worry Iowa growers. One-third of Iowa soybean growers in an Agri-Pulse survey name regulations such as the “waters of the U.S.” rule as their top national policy concern. Twenty-one percent say they’re worried about maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard. 

About one in 10 say they’re concerned about keeping the 2014 farm bill safety net programs intact.

EU glyphosate decision delayed. The European Commission panel charged with reviewing the authorization of glyphosate delayed a vote when it became clear that it could not secure a “qualified majority,” according to press reports. Neither France nor Germany could be counted on to support renewal of the weed-killer’s authorization, sources told Reuters. The latest draft of the proposal being considered by the European Commission panel would reportedly authorize use of glyphosate for nine years.

He said it. “I’m very hopeful we can come up with something. It’s good to identify and clarify our differences.” - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, on being optimistic about reaching an agreement with Debbie Stabenow on biotech labeling.

Spencer Chase, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.


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