WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2016 - Some agriculture leaders are in New York this morning for a $5,000-per-person fundraiser for President-elect Donald Trump’s transition. One source who works for a farm group says he expected a “fair number” of people with agriculture ties to be in attendance.

Trump met yesterday with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is apparently being considered for ambassador to China. Branstad issued a statement afterward saying that he and Trump had discussed the possibility, but there was no word on whether the governor would get the ambassadorship. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that he thinks Trump’s strong support from Branstad and other GOP officeholders played a big role in Trump’s victory in Iowa. 

Roberts, Pence talk USDA nominee. Vice President-elect Mike Pence was on Capitol Hill yesterday, and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts used the chance to discuss possible nominees for agriculture secretary. Roberts wouldn’t reveal any names that came up, but said he also pressed Pence to get Trump to talk about agriculture. 

Roberts said that both he and his House counterpart, Mike Conaway, have offered to be a “sounding board” for Trump on the nomination. 

Trump will have a perfect opportunity to talk about USDA and farm issues on Thursday when he goes to Des Moines for a rally. 

Stopgap bill funds farm loans. A stopgap spending bill that Congress needs to pass before the weekend to keep the government running includes a provision to ensure that FDA’s Farm Service Agency can keep up with the demand for farm operating loans. 

The continuing resolution, which would run through April 28, includes similar language to cover rural housing and telecommunications loans.

For more on the transition and the lame duck Congress, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

House committee outlines SNAP lessons. The House Agriculture Committee is releasing a report today on lessons learned about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from 16 hearings that the panel held over the past two years. 

Among the findings in the report: Some states need to better enforce their work requirements and that enforcement needs to be coupled with better employment and training programs.“Promoting pathways to employment is the best way to help individuals climb the economic ladder out of poverty and into self-sufficiency,” according to the report’s executive summary.

The report also emphasizes the need for low-income people to have access to healthful foods, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas. “Nutrition education - working in tandem with targeted incentives - can help SNAP recipients develop healthy lifestyles and healthy eating habits,” the report says.

Roberts: Keep the farm bill intact. The report’s findings don’t address whether SNAP should be kept in the farm bill, and Conaway hasn’t taken a position on that issue.  But Roberts says the legislation needs to be kept intact. “If you’re going to have any kind of farm bill you’re also going to have a nutrition title,” he told reporters yesterday.

Roberts’ position reflects the fact that a farm bill can’t move in the Senate without Democratic support, and Democrats will resist any effort to split the farm bill. Conaway has a different problem. He needs support from hard-line conservatives in the Republican caucus, and he probably doesn’t want to take a position against splitting the farm bill any earlier than he needs to. 

Roberts also ruled out the idea of turning the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over to the states to run, an idea that has been a staple of House Republican budget proposals. “If you’re going to have a program like that, it should be consistent throughout the country,” Roberts said.

House panel reviews USDA catfish inspection. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing today looking into complaints about USDA’s new catfish inspection program. 

Critics were unable to get House GOP leaders to schedule a vote this year on a Senate-approved resolution that would have killed the USDA program, so today’s hearing will be something of a consolation prize. Witnesses from FDA and the Government Accountability Office were included on the witness list, but there were none from USDA. 

Steven Otwell, a seafood safety specialist and professor emeritus at the University of Florida, says in his prepared testimony that there is “no real, documented evidence that farm-raised catfish, from domestic or international sources, poses a significant food safety burden that warrants additional and duplicative federal regulations.”

Congress ordered USDA to take over catfish inspection from the FDA in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills and it wasn’t until April this year that USDA began conducting domestic and import inspections. The Senate-approved resolution would kill the rule that USDA uses to operate the program. 

Lawmaker seeks to halt EPA promotion. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., is trying to get the EPA to cut off grants for its “What’s Upstream” public relations campaign in the Pacific Northwest. 

Newhouse has written EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, asking her to prohibit subcontractor awards that are funding what he says is an “anti-farmer” propaganda effort. Newhouse says EPA hasn’t started reviewing previous “What’s Upstream” spending that came under fire in Congress. 

“It is unconscionable that before farmers in Washington State receive answers on how taxpayer dollars were used improperly to smear them and to lobby lawmakers, the EPA is continuing to shell out taxpayer dollars with zero accountability,” he said.


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