WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2016 - China National Chemical Corp. is refusing to give up its immunity to lawsuits if it takes over Swiss biotech giant Syngenta. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley says he remains concerned about ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta after getting answers from the Chinese firm to questions about Syngenta’s future legal structure. 

In a letter to Grassley, ChemChina declined to sign a consent decree with the Justice Department  to waive the state-owned company’s sovereign immunity. The company insisted that Syngenta would remain subject to U.S. laws. But ChemChina confirmed that it will own the entirety of Syngenta, and Grassley says that means the parent company could claim immunity.

Leahy shifts to Appropriations, Carper gets EPW. Senate Democrats have named their top slots on committees, and there are a couple of changes that will be important to food and agriculture policy. 

Debbie Stabenow, no surprise, will remain the ranking member on Agriculture. But Pat Leahy of Vermont will shift from the top position at Judiciary to take the ranking members’s post at Appropriations, replacing the retiring Barbara Mikulski.

Delaware’s Tom Carper will replace the retiring Barbara Boxer as ranking member on Environment and Public Works. Carper, whose state is home to DuPont, has been generally supportive of the Renewable Fuel Standard, and especially of advanced biofuels. “Biofuels done right is crucial to our energy security, but we cannot ignore the difficulties created by an unexpected drop in transportation fuel consumption and slower than expected growth in advanced biofuels production,” Carper said at a hearing in February.

California’s Dianne Feinstein will replace Leahy as ranking member at Judiciary.

Conaway waiting for Trump team. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway says he wants to ensure that Donald Trump’s transition gets congressional input on who should have key jobs in the administration. The transition team scheduled a meeting with Conaway yesterday, but it wound up getting canceled. No word on the reason why. 

“They know we’re available. They know we’re interested,” Conaway told reporters yesterday after his committee’s final hearing of the year. “As soon as they’re interested we’ll jump in and help with that.” 

Conaway told Agri-Pulse earlier this week that Trump has given Vice President-elect Mike Pence the lead role in fashioning farm policy and that the Indiana governor would have a say in who gets named agriculture secretary. 
The transition team added a new wrinkle to the search for appointees by announcing last night that they would be banned from lobbying the federal government for five years. 

The list of possible names for agriculture secretary seems to be growing. Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who lost his re-election bid, confirmed that he’s angling to become secretary. A Breitbart reporter raised the idea at a Capitol Hill event yesterday. But Huelskamp would have to be a long shot, given his rocky relations with farm groups and Republican leaders.

Conaway: committed to passing the farm bill in next Congress. Conaway says he’ll wait to start working on a farm bill next year until Trump gets his key appointees in place at USDA. 

Conaway won’t say whether he would oppose splitting the farm bill. He said he’s “committed to getting both sides of the farm bill on time,” referring to the nutrition tittle and the rest of the bill as two sides. “If it’s together, great. If it’s separate, great. Whichever is the most easiest path. I’m committed to getting them both reauthorized. The process is to be determined.”

Merrigan: Almost secretary? Kathleen Merrigan, who served as deputy agriculture secretary during Obama’s first term, tells Agri-Pulse that there was a better than good chance, as she puts it, that she would have been agriculture secretary under a Hillary Clinton administration. Merrigan says she plans to stay in teaching for now. Merrigan runs a food policy initiative at The George Washington University.

Give Trump time, Merrigan says. Merrigan says advocates of food policy reform should give Trump time to get his appointees in place before worrying too much about the direction he’ll take. She made the comment at a food policy forum yesterday.

Merrigan didn’t mention him by name, but she noted that the transition team’s adviser on USDA, Mike Torrey, had appeared multiple times before the National Organic Standards Board. Torrey, who served as deputy chief of staff at USDA during George W. Bush's administration, is now a lobbyist and was representing White Wave before NOSB.

“We should not presume that the new team is not going to carry on some of the good legacy,” Merrigan said, referring to the various policy initiatives put in place during the Obama administration.

USDA’s biotech overhaul undergoing tweaks. USDA’s plan for overhauling its approval process for genetically engineered crops is undergoing changes even as it’s under review at the Office of Management and Budget. 

Michael Firko of USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services didn't offer any insight into the content of the proposal, but he said at a stakeholders meeting yesterday that he hoped it would be released before the end of the year.

His agency has been refining the proposal as it receives input from other federal agencies. He says stakeholders can set up meetings with OMB staff to provide their opinions.

In other news from the stakeholder meeting, Andrea Huberty of the Agricultural Marketing Service said AMS aims to release a proposed GMO disclosure rule by November 2017, with a final rule to follow – as required by the law – by July 2018.

He said it. “I’m confident that the culture is strong enough and moving fast enough on these issues that we can withstand some extra fries in the White House.” - Sam Kass, former White House nutrition policy adviser, asked whether he’s worried that Donald Trump’s affinity for fast food sets a bad example for the country.

Spencer Chase and Steve Davies contributed to this report.


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