WASHINGTON, July 7, 2016 - The Senate’s landmark compromise on GMO labeling has one final vote to go today before heading to the House. A final vote on the legislation is expected this evening, but the outcome is pretty clear, given yesterday’s 65-32 vote to limit debate on the bill. The final vote will only require a simple majority. 

The bipartisan vote yesterday should be read as a clear and strong affirmation of the Senate’s support for agricultural biotechnology. Eighteen Democrats voted for the cloture motion along with 47 Republicans. And the margin could have been larger. The three senators who missed the vote all supported a procedural motion last week to bring up the legislation.

During the debate ahead of the vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow said that the labeling issue was a “proxy fight” over whether biotechnology “has a role in our food system.”

We expect the House to approve the bill. The question is when. Both chambers will be out of session after next week until September. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, refused again yesterday to take a position on the bill before the Senate passes it. “When the Senate does something I’ll be in a position to talk about something other than the 275 votes that I got for the House bill,” Conaway. He was referring to legislation that the chamber passed nearly a year ago. 

Obama wins OK for signature development initiative.Yesterday wasn’t just historic because of the vote on GMO labeling. The House gave final congressional approval to the Global Food Security Act, which authorizes for the first time President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative and the Emergency Food Security Program. 

The administration had pushed to get Feed the Future into law two years ago when it appeared that Republicans would take control of the Senate in the fall elections, but a one-year authorization of Feed the Future wound up dying in the lame duck session that year. The president wound up with a bigger achievement in the bill that’s headed to his desk. The legislation not only authorizes Feed the Future for two years - not just one - but it also writes into law the Emergency Food Security Program. EFSP isn’t restricted to using U.S.-grown commodities, as is the case with the Food for Peace program. Instead, EFSP provides food aid through electronic vouchers and locally procured commodities.

U.S. farm groups can take heart that House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., committed to seeing that EFSP doesn’t replace Food for Peace but operates in parallel with it. “U.S. agricultural commodities will always be in demand and will always remain a part of the Food for Peace program, he said. 

Rice growers see increased food aid demand. The USDA has announced plans to spend $160 million on the Food for Progress Program and $195.5 million on the McGovern-Dole Program in fiscal year 2016, and the USA Rice Federation said its farmers are expected to play a bigger role than ever in supplying food aid.

"Rice is the most requested commodity in USDA's McGovern-Dole program and we expect programming will increase even more with the new introduction of fortified rice, which has eight essential micronutrients targeted to fight hidden hunger," said Jamie Warshaw, chairman of USA Rice’s food aid subcommittee. ”It's great to see the U.S. government invest in nutrition to help millions of people.  It makes our industry feel proud to be a part of creating a food-secure world.”

Drought moves into South. Drought conditions are worsening in several Southern states with some of the worst dryness in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, according to USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey. The situation has hit topsoil conditions especially hard, he said in an audio recording posted on USDA’s web site.

And there is no relief in sight, Rippey said. “The forecast is for more hot weather and, once we move into the deep South, very little rain,” he said. “It will remain hot and dry for the foreseeable future.”

Coming to a theater near you: Dueling animal welfare films.You won’t see the Humane Society of the United States mentioned anywhere, but there’s a new movie aimed at countering some of the organization’s negative messages about animal agriculture.
Look for "The Dog Lover" to premier Friday, July 8 in 40 theaters, on demand through Sony Home Entertainment and at Walmart on the 12th. The movie is about a powerful animal rights activist group that sets out to destroy a dog-breeding family, and their fight to survive, based on a true story in South Dakota. Here’s the trailer:  www.thedoglovermovie.com.

The film is the first of six to be released by ESX Entertainment, launched last year by Forrest Lucas, founder and owner of Lucas Oil Products and Protect the Harvest, and actor-producer Ali Afshar, who originally met through their love of racing. Afshar told Agri-Pulse that the films will provide “hopeful and inspiring messages about farm families and the way they care for their animals.” In addition, he hopes the films will encourage consumers to “learn the truth” and “investigate before you donate,” because not all animal welfare organizations “truly help animals.”

Not to be outdone, HSUS is introducing a documentary, “At the Fork,” at 75 screenings around the nation on July 13. The showings are sponsored by HSUS, Whole Foods Market and ticket sales. "It’s an in-depth exploration of the current state of animal welfare on farms throughout the United States,” writes HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle in a blog post. “It really seeks to put the major questions to the consumer and asks him or her to probe the important moral questions about food production and to eat with a conscience,” he adds.

He said it. “Show me a nation that cannot feed itself and I’ll show you a nation in chaos, and goodness knows we’ve had enough of that.” - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, arguing for the biotech disclosure bill.

Bill Tomson and Sara Wyant contributed to this report. 


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