WASHINGTON, June 7, 2016 - We could be getting closer to a landmark agreement in Congress on GMO labeling. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts tells Agri-Pulse that he hopes to reach an agreement this week with ranking member Debbie Stabenow on a biotech labeling bill that can pass the Senate. The legislation needs 60 votes to break a filibuster. 

“This has gone on long enough. …. We’ll be meeting to see if we can get this worked out - finally,” Roberts said Monday evening. Roberts said he was trying to nail down final language on the outstanding issues, including an exemption for animal products and how small, regional businesses would be treated under the bill.

The legislation is expected to mandate that companies provide a method of disclosing the presence of biotech ingredients. 

Asked if there could even be a vote this week, Roberts said that it would be “pretty tough to do, but you could get an agreement that we’re going to have a vote.”

USDA unveils program to help cotton. The USDA on Monday announced a $300 million assistance package for the cotton industry, which continues to suffer from depressed global prices.

The Cotton Ginning Cost-Share program, a one-time assistance package, is not the long-term assistance that farmers originally asked for, but U.S. farm groups said the aid is much appreciated.

"The U.S. cotton industry commends Secretary Vilsack for his efforts on making possible a program that will provide much-needed marketing assistance for our nation's cotton producers," said National Cotton Council Chairman Shane Stephens in reaction to the assistance.

Farm groups originally asked USDA to make cottonseed eligible for the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs in the 2014 farm bill.  But USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack argued earlier this year that he did not have the authority to do that.

For more, check out the full story from Agri-Pulse’s Phil Brasher.

Speaker rolls out anti-poverty proposal. House Speaker Paul Ryan will roll out proposals today to overhaul federal assistance to low-income Americans. The plan is the first of six planks to an election-year agenda that Ryan calls “a Better Way.” One big question is how much of the agenda Ryan can get Donald Trump to buy into. 

Ryan released no details of his anti-poverty plan ahead of this morning’s event. But Democratic congresswoman Rosa DeLauro took a preemptive strike at the proposals, saying that Ryan was unfairly attacking programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that were vital to the poor.
DeLauro cites data showing that SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014, including 2.1 million children. “Congress should pursue policies that continue to lift people out of poverty, rather than instituting cuts,” DeLauro says. 

Hostess has a peanut problem. Hostess, the renowned maker of Twinkies, is recalling 710,000 cases of Ding Dongs, Zingers and other snack and donut products after two children had allergic reactions to bits of peanuts that should not have been present in the food.

The FDA and Hostess blame the unwanted presence of peanut particles in the flour on the company Grain Craft, which also supplies other producers of bakery goods.

Grain Craft confirmed last week that it found peanut residues in the soft red winter wheat flour it was producing and shut down production, the FDA said.

Rising feed costs putting damper on pork profitability. Nearby meal futures are now more than $400 per ton, up significantly from an average of about $276 per ton in the first quarter of the year and that’s putting pressure on pork margins, according to a new analysis by Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.

Pork is still riding high because of rising import demand from China, but feed is getting more expensive because of production shortfalls in South America, Hurt said in an article posted on farmdoc Daily.

“Both pork prices and feed prices seemingly are in a period of upward dynamics right now,” he said. “How these two issues ultimately work out will have a great deal to do with margins for the remainder of 2016 and 2017.”

Groups seek House vote to kill USDA catfish inspection. Twelve tax and business groups have sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, asking for a floor vote on the Senate-approved measure to take catfish inspection away from the USDA and give it back to the FDA.

“Eliminating wasteful federal spending and burdensome regulation is a very difficult task, especially when proceeding one program at a time,” the groups wrote. “But the value to taxpayers of doing so is undeniable.  Thus, we strongly urge you to have a floor vote and follow the Senate’s lead as quickly as possible in order to close the book on this now infamous and embarrassing example of government waste.”

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action for America, Independent Women’s Forum, Independent Women’s Voice, Institute for Liberty, Less Government, National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Individual Freedom and Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council signed onto the letter.

On May 25 the Senate voted 55 to 43 to reject provisions of the 2008 and 2014 farm bills that gave domestic and foreign catfish to the USDA.

Vilsack kicks off 2016 Summer Food Service Program. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary John King will travel today to an elementary school in Petersburg, Va., to draw attention to the start of summer feeding programs at schools across the country. 

Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton will join the cabinet members as they serve breakfast to students and then hold a press conference.

Millions of meals are served throughout the summer months to low-income children that rely on free or reduced-price meals as part of USDA’s  Summer Food Service Program.

He wrote it: “In America, we enjoy access to the world’s safest, highest quality, and most abundant food supply. This is not by accident, but through the hard work of America’s farmers and ranchers and as the result of policies designed to promote the safety and stability of the nation’s food supply.” That was House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway in an op-ed published Tuesday on the Bloomberg Government blog.

Phil Brasher contributed to this report.


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