WASHINGTON, Mar. 9, 2017 - The House Agriculture Committee continues a series of hearings on the next farm bill today, and there will be a spotlight on dozens of programs that won’t have funding unless Congress comes up with more money. 

A hearing this morning will focus on rural development and energy programs. An afternoon hearing will look at the needs of fruit and vegetable growers. There are 37 farm bill programs that don’t have funding after next year, including numerous energy, rural development and nutrition programs.

The president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, James Greenwood, will tell the lawmakers that the energy programs are critical to realizing the promise of the biochemical and biofuel business in rural areas. Greenwood says in his prepared testimony that the programs can create “tens of thousands of more jobs in rural America and promoting billions of dollars of additional economic activity.”

The afternoon witnesses will include James Field, who is director of business development for Frey Farms, a major Illinois-based producer of watermelons and pumpkins. 

Field, who will be representing the United Fresh Produce Association, is highlighting a number of priorities for the sector, including funding for research, trade promotion, pest control and nutrition.

Brownback to Rome?  Gov. Sam Brownback reportedly is headed to Rome to become the U.S. ambassador of the UN’s food and agriculture agencies. They include the World Food Program. The United States is by far the largest donor to WFP, the largest distributor of food aid. 

Perdue watch. A spokeswoman for President Trump's agriculture secretary-nominee, Sonny Perdue, tells Agri-Pulse his paperwork has been completed and will be forwarded soon to the Senate Agriculture Committee. That would clear the way for his confirmation hearing to be scheduled later this month.

FDA looks to re-define ‘healthy’ foods. FDA is holding a public hearing today on how it should restrict the use of the term “healthy” on food and beverage products. 

The agency announced last fall that it was considering new regulations for the term and soliciting public input on what “healthy” should mean. Agency officials say they’re acting in part because of changes in recommendations about what’s healthy and what isn’t.

Today’s meeting can be viewed on the web. The agency also is taking public comments on the labeling issue until April 26. 

Brazil bans U.S. poultry and eggs. Brazil has joined the list of countries that are banning all U.S. poultry and eggs in response to the recent bird flu outbreak at a Tennessee broiler breeding operation. 

South Korea was the first country to announce a ban, but the list also includes Kuwait, Thailand and Kazakhstan. China still maintains a ban that it imposed two years ago during the massive 2015 outbreak.

USDA hasn’t given up on China, though. The agency is talking to China and other countries about confining their bans to poultry from regions where the flu has been detected, rather than the entire United States. USDA Chief Veterinarian Jack Shere told Agri-Pulse the U.S. is close to finalizing such an agreement with South Korea.

Trump eyes late-2017 for NAFTA talks. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he expects the Trump administration to begin negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement in the latter part of this year. Once the talks begin, they “hopefully won’t take more than a year,” Ross told Bloomberg TV.  

Ross said he understands that the U.S. business community is nervous about the uncertainty that Trump’s plan to renegotiate has brought. “We will try to get it resolved as rapidly as we can,” he said. Ross promised to consult with affected industries as the negotiations progress. 

Ross suggested that Trump’s tough talk on NAFTA has softened up Mexico’s leadership and should make the negotiations easier. “What could be better than going into the negotiation where the fellow on the other side knows he has to make concessions.”

In a separate interview with Fox Business, Ross denied that the Trump administration was starting a trade war with China. “Enforcing one’s legal position doesn’t strike me as a war. It’s normal police activity.” A major Chinese telecom company agreed this week to pay a fine of more than $1 billion for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea. 

Infrastructure spending’s in the slow lane. One of President Trump’s top priorities is getting a massive infrastructure spending bill out of Congress. But Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, says lawmakers are unlikely to get to the issue until “considerably later this year.”

  At a hearing yesterday on possible funding options for infrastructure, the Republican from Maine said that one of her top concerns will be making sure that “rural states are not left behind.” She said the legislation must to do more than pay for “splashy, large infrastructure projects in urban areas.”

Call it the Fido-Protection Act: Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would ban the sale of meat from dogs and cats. 

While there’s only limited consumption of such meat here in the United States, it’s still legal in much of the country. The bill, which has bipartisan support, is also designed to bring pressure on other countries to end the practice of raising dogs and cats for food, according to the Humane Society of the United States

“The fact that this legislation is even necessary today is astonishing. It is past time for us to outlaw such a cruel and barbaric practice once and for all,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.

Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.