WASHINGTON, June 17, 2016 - Food and agriculture groups are eagerly awaiting a final agreement in the Senate on biotech labeling. Late last night, an aide told Agri-Pulse that negotiators were “working on the language” of the bill “and making more progress.” Debbie Stabenow, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat said earlier in the day that the talks were “moving” in the right direction. Another source said her differences with Chairman Pat Roberts had narrowed. 

The Senate needs to approve an agreement by next week in order for the House to have time to consider it before Vermont’s GMO labeling law takes effect July 1. “We think we’re close, and we think there’s still time to get this done in both houses,” Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told reporters yesterday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack yesterday continued to call for flexibility on both sides. He told reporters that while Roberts and Stabenow “have worked extremely hard,” they “need a little give-and-take from their colleagues in order to get this thing done.”

Philadelphia juices soda tax campaign. Philadelphia has become the first major city to approve a tax on soft drinks. The 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax that the city council approved yesterday would apply to both sugary beverages as well as artificially sweetened drinks. 

The American Beverage Association immediately said it would sue to stop what it called a “regressive” tax. “These taxes are discriminatory and highly unpopular, not only with Philadelphians, but with all Americans,” the group said. 

Philadelphia’s action will be used to promote efforts in Congress for a national soda tax, but the biggest impact will be on other cities that are looking for new revenue sources that can be sold as health measures. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said that Philadelphia would “certainly not (be) the last” city to pass such a tax. “At a time when one-in-three children and adolescents are overweight or obese, with the numbers even worse for adults, we must take action,” she said.

The Philadelphia tax is expected to raise $91 million for the city over the next year. The revenue is earmarked for schools, parks and other services..

House panel threatens officials over WOTUS rule. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants to hold a White House official in contempt for failing to produce enough documents on deliberations that produced EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.,” or WOTUS, rule. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah made the recommendation in a report prepared by the committee. Howard Shelanski, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is the official in question. Shelanski has “failed to provide even a meaningful subset of responsive documents,” the report said.

Congressional Republicans are making clear that they will keep hammering on the WOTUS rule all the way to the election. The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday approved a fiscal 2017 spending bill for EPA that includes a rider preventing the rule’s implementation should a court stay be lifted. Democrats say they will block the bill from moving on the Senate floor because of the WOTUS rider as well as some other environmental provisions. 

There are similar WOTUS riders in the House’s spending bills for EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. But the White House is certain to fight hard to keep them out of the final spending legislation that Congress is expected to write later this year. 

Support grows for catfish repeal. The number of House members seeking a vote on USDA’s catfish inspection program has grown to 178. That includes 124 Republicans, which significantly is a majority of the GOP conference. The lawmakers have signed a letter seeking a vote on a resolution that would kill the rule under which the inspection program operates. Supporters of the program are expected to release a letter of their own. 

He said it. “I think those negotiations are complicated enough.” - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, when asked whether Britain’s vote next week on whether to leave the European Union would affect the administration’s ongoing trade talks with the EU. 

Spencer Chase, Daniel Enoch and Steve Davies contributed to this report. 


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