WASHINGTON, May 25, 2016 - The nation’s catfish farmers are bracing for a tough vote in the Senate today.The Senate is set to take a second and final vote this morning to scrap the new USDA rule that is critical to operating its new inspection program for catfish.  

Domestic producers have been struggling for years to get the inspection program operating. But the Senate voted 57-40 to proceed to a final vote on the USDA rule despite warnings that the department has been finding imported fish tainted with chemicals. 

The vote was a victory for conservative groups such as Heritage Action, and a defeat for a pair of senior Republicans: Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, who argues that the issue was settled in the last farm bill, and for the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Today’s vote is on a resolution of disapproval. The House would still need to act on the issue before it goes to President Obama, who once proposed to kill the inspection program.

House GOP takes on WOTUS, other regs. Republicans will press their battle against the Obama administration’s environmental regulations on two fronts today in the House. The House Appropriations Committee will begin moving an Interior-Environment spending bill that would block the administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule, as well as limits on greenhouse gas emissions. 

On the House floor today, lawmakers will be debating an Energy-Water spending bill that would also stop the administration from implementing its WOTUS rule and roll back endangered species protections that limit irrigation water supplies in California’s Central Valley. The White House has threatened a veto of the measure. 

Organic sector seeks to protect livestock rule, lobby biotech definition.Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be speaking at the Organic Trade Association’s annual policy conference today along with the Senate’s chief proponent of mandatory GMO labeling, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley. 

OTA members are also on Capitol Hill lobbying on several issues this week, including the biotech disclosure bill that Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts is negotiating. OTA is urging senators to use the same expansive definition for genetic engineering that the National Organic Program does. 

The food and biotech sectors are lobbying for just the opposite: They want to make sure that the legislation doesn’t cover new techniques like gene editing. 

Roberts says he’s aiming for a vote on the GMO legislation soon after Congress returns from its week-long break for Memorial Day. “Immediately after we come back something has to happen,” Roberts told Agri-Pulse.

One of several issues still to be resolved is when biotech disclosure requirements would become mandatory. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters yesterday that Roberts wants to delay mandatory compliance for two years, but that ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow hasn’t supported that. Roberts would only say that the issues are still “fluid.”

Agri-Pulse’s Philip Brasher and Spencer Chase will be recording a special edition of Washington Week in Review at today’s OTA policy conference. See this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter for more on OTA’s priorities, and on the appropriations bills Congress is debating.

Organic price premiums highest for eggs. USDA economists have taken a new look at the prices that consumers pay for organic products and found that the premiums range from as low as 7 percent for spinach to 82 percent for eggs. The economists say that contrary to the perception of some, most of the premiums didn’t decline over the seven year period that was studied but fluctuated instead. 

Organic milk has the next highest premium at 72 percent.

EPA critic to lead GOP platform committee. The EPA isn’t likely to fare well in the Republican platform this year. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who has been a constant critic of the EPA’s WOTUS rule and climate policy, has been tapped to chair the GOP platform committee. 

Chicken producers seek regulation of stuff products. It’s not often that an industry asks for increased regulation. But the National Chicken Council is petitioning USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to require labeling of raw, stuffed chicken products such as chicken Kiev that may appeared cooked and ready to eat. The products that the group wants labeled also include breaded, pre-browned versions of chicken cordon bleu. 

NCC President Mike Brown says that federal labeling regulations are needed to ensure that the products have consistent language that doesn’t confuse consumers.

Peterson suggests bankers need to require use of dairy program. The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, is struggling to come up with a way to get more dairy farmers interested in the Margin Protection Program created by the 2014 Farm Bill. At a hearing yesterday, he suggested that bankers ought to require dairy producers to sign up for MPP in the same way that lenders expect other farmers to have crop insurance.

“In crop farming, the banker is going to insist on you buying insurance, and that’s a given,” he said. “I don’t think that is going on with the Margin Protection Program and I don’t know exactly why that is.”

He said it. “The good news is ... that the majority of Americans still believe in trade and still believe that it's good for our economy.  The bad news is politics in the United States is not always -- how would I put it -- reasonable.” - President Obama to a group of Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday on prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Spencer Chase contributed to this report.


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