WASHINGTON, June 5, 2016 - The food and agriculture industry’s hopes for blocking Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling requirements are hanging on Senate negotiations that suddenly became serious late last week. 

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said on Friday the talks were making “good progress,” and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow described them as “very positive.” The Vermont law takes effect July 1, although private citizens won’t be allowed to sue for violations until July 2017. 

Roberts, R-Kan., said that failing to reach agreement would produce an “apocalypse” for the industry, a reference to the potential for food companies to quit using genetically engineered ingredients because of state labeling laws. But Roberts expressed confidence that he and Stabenow would cut a deal. ’We’re going to be OK,” he said. 

The food industry has tentatively agreed to mandatory disclosure of biotech ingredients, according to sources, but negotiations have continued on a series of other issues, including the Agriculture Department’s role in developing the disclosure requirements. 

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, hasn’t been part of the negotiations and told Agri-Pulse that he reserved the right to reject a Senate deal, a position that could provide Roberts leverage in the negotiations. 

The looming Vermont law, combined with the need to have 60 Senate votes to move a bill in the Senate, means that Democrats have had the upper hand in the talks.

“The industry is in a jam,” said Conaway, R-Texas. “The Senate Dems are using this sword of Damocles that is Vermont to get everybody to capitulate to their way. I'm not going to do that.

The House approved a bill, 275-150, last July that would simply block state GMO labeling requirements while setting up a process for labeling foods as non-biotech.

The Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, the industry’s public advocacy arm on the issue, pledged to keep the pressure on the Senate: “Until a bipartisan solution is announced, we won’t let up. This issue is the most immediate threat facing the food and agriculture industries, and if the Senate fails to find an immediate agreement - American agriculture will be forever changed.”

Meanwhile this week, appropriators in both the House and Senate will advance their respective Interior-Environment bills, which fund the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service. 

The House version, which the House Appropriations Committee will debate on Wednesday, includes a provision to block the Obama administration from implementing its “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) should a court stay be lifted. 

The Senate version, which will be marked up in subcommittee on Tuesday, may not include a similar rider. If it doesn’t, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will be ready with a proposed amendment, an aide said. A similar amendment failed earlier when Hoeven tried to add it on the Senate floor to the Energy-Water bill. 

Farm groups and other opponents of the rule will seek to include the provision in whatever funding legislation is eventually enacted. The White House last year successfully blocked the rider. 

The House Interior-Environment bill also includes riders to prevent the EPA from carrying out its carbon-reduction plan for electric utilities, which also is under a court stay, as well as new regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas production. 

The bill also would provide an increase of $12 million in 2017 for the conservation of sage grouse.

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It’s not clear whether the bill will get to the House floor. The House managed to pass its Legislative branch funding bill last week but only after the leadership decided to block consideration of any amendments that Republicans defined as “poison pills,” including a gay and transgender rights measure that led to the defeat in May of the Energy-Water bill. 

The House is debating the Defense bill this week. A senior appropriator, Tom Cole, R-Okla., told Agri-Pulse he was unsure the full House would take up the Agriculture bill, which he noted is typically a frequent target of amendments. Keeping the bill off the floor would prevent critics of farm bill spending from forcing votes on issues such as crop insurance. 

The Interior-Environment bill is typically even more controversial, as is the Labor-HHS measure. 

The Farm Credit System celebrates its 100th celebration on Wednesday and Thursday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to speak at a Thursday luncheon.

Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, June 13

4 p.m. - USDA releases Crop Progress report. 

Tuesday, June 14

9:30 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations subcommittee markup of its fiscal 2017 bill, 124 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - House Agriculture subcommittee hearing to review the impact of G-20 clearing and trade execution requirements, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the U.S. public health response to antibiotic resistance, 2123 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on agricultural trade, 1100 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Committee hearing on oil and gas pipelines, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing on energy tax policy, 215 Dirksen.

Wednesday, June 15

Farm Credit Centennial Celebration, through Wednesday

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Land O’Lakes President and CEO Chris Polinski discuss challenges facing the farming and agriculture sector in a live broadcast Fair Oaks, Ind.

Acting Deputy Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse speaks on global food security at the opening ceremony for a Bunge oilseed crushing facility in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

9:30 a.m. - House Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2017 Interior-Environment bill, 2359 Rayburn.

10 a.m. - Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee markup of FY17 bill, 138 Dirksen.

Noon - Heritage Foundation forum on enforcement of the Clean Water Act and WOTUS after the Supreme Court decision in Army Corps of Engineers vs. Hawkes, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE

1:30 p.m. - Farm Credit System panel discussion on rural infrastructure, 2168 Rayburn. 

2:30 p.m. - House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on state perspectives on BLM’s draft planning 2.0 rule, 1324 Longworth. 

6 p.m. - Congressional celebration for Farm Credit’s 100th anniversary, Library of Congress, Madison Building.

Thursday, June 16

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report. 

8:30 a.m. - American Enterprise Institute forum with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on the U.S.-China economic relationship, 1150 17th St. NW.

10 a.m. - Farm Credit panel discussion on the future of agriculture, 902 Hart, 902 Hart.

10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the Interior-Environment and Financial Services bills, 106 Dirksen.

Friday, June 17


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