WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 - Close, but still not there. That’s the way key senators are describing the negotiations on biotech labeling.  “There is still disagreement on” on a couple of issues, said the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. She wouldn’t say anything more. 

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts indicated he was still trying to get sufficient GOP votes to pass the bill. It will take 60 votes to move the legislation. When Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was asked whether he thought there would be a deal this week, he paused and responded, “Before July 1.” That’s the date that Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law takes effect. 

One industry official who was meeting with Senate aides on the issue said they described the two sides as “inches” apart. According to sources, the unsettled issues include the USDA’s role in writing disclosure standards and whether to exempt processed products that contain meat from disclosure. 

Time is fast running out on the negotiators, if they’re going to enact a national law before July 1. The House, which would have to approve any deal that the Senate reaches, will only be in session next week before breaking for the July 4 holiday.

ND preserves corporate farm ban. North Dakotans have overwhelmingly voted to retain the state’s longstanding ban on corporate ownership of farms. Yesterday’s vote came on the referral of a new law that loosened the rules for dairy and swine operations. The North Dakota Farm Bureau, which supported the law, anticipated the result and has already filed suit to overturn the ban.

Republicans take multiple shots at WOTUS. The House Appropriations Committee will debate a fiscal 2016 Interior-Environment spending bill that includes riders blocking the Obama administration’s “waters of the United States” rule. The Senate version of the bill, which the Senate Appropriations Committee will consider Thursday, has the same provision. For good measure, House Republicans also released an economic agenda yesterday that calls on the Obama administration to withdraw the rule. 

These GOP moves will serve to keep the WOTUS rule as an issue heading into the election. The fate of the rule, however, probably rests on the success of the current court challenge or the election of a Republican president. 

For more on the Senate’s Interior-Environment bill, check this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

Farm Credit celebrates 100th birthday. The Farm Credit Council kicks off a two-day celebration today of the system’s centennial. There will be a congressional reception tonight at the Library of Congress with leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will headline the events on Thursday.

Grassley challenges DuPont-Dow merger. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is urging the Justice Department to take a hard look at the planned merger of agribusiness giants Dow Chemical and DuPont. Grassley had earlier pressed DuPont to make sure that it kept its Pioneer seed business in his home state of Iowa. DuPont has done that. But Grassley now says in a letter to DOJ that he has concerns that the merger would reduce competition and raise prices to farmers. 

“I am concerned that this transaction will decrease competition in an agriculture sector that has already been subject to a number of waves of consolidation in recent years,” Grassley wrote. “The proposed transaction could raise barriers to entry in the market for smaller companies and potentially harm innovation, and could adversely impact choice and price of products for farmers and consumers.”

Froman: Still seeking T-TIP deal this year. U.S. and European Union negotiators are working “around the clock” to try to wrap up a trade agreement before President Obama leaves office, says U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman. But Froman told members of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives yesterday that there are a number of outstanding issues in agriculture that have to be resolved before the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can be finalized. 

“If we’re going to solve this, it’s going to require creativity and pragmatism on both sides, not ideology,” Froman said. 

The issue of geographic indications remains one of the major sticking points in the talks. And he offered little in the way of progress on the issue. Geographic indications are names such as Parmesan cheese and Feta cheese that EU producers are trying to stop U.S. companies from using. Froman reiterated the U.S. position that EU producers can already get adequate protection through the use of trademarks. 

Conaway demands CFTC releases position limits analysis. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway is demanding that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission release a report that he says shows the benefits of market speculation. In a letter to CFTC Chairman Timothy Massad, Conaway says that the review of economic studies is important in light of the commission’s rulemaking on position limits. 

The Texas Republican says the report raises “important questions” about whether position limits are “an effective tool for limiting the effects of excessive speculation.” Conaway says the report  highlights the “market stabilizing effects of speculative activity” and shows that suppressing speculation “may carry unintended risks, such as disruptions to liquidity and price discovery.” 

The CFTC had no immediate comment.

She said it: “Do not let anyone convince you that you should separate food stamps from the farm bill because you will never, ever have another farm bill.” Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, speaking to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ board meeting.

Sara Wyant contributed to this report.


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