WASHINGTON, May 7, 2017 - The Senate this week takes up two of President Trump’s nominees who are critical to agriculture, his picks for Food and Drug Administration commissioner and U.S. trade representative.
The Senate has a cloture vote Monday evening to advance Scott Gottlieb’s nomination to run FDA. Senators will move later in the week to confirm USTR pick Robert Lighthizer, an international trade lawyer who served at USTR during the Reagan administration.
Food and agriculture industry groups have been pressuring the Senate to get both nominees in place.
In a recent letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a coalition of food and beverage trade groups said Gottlieb would bring “a high level of knowledge and experience” to FDA.
The letter noted that the agency has been working closely with the industry to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act and in improving “consumer transparency for product ingredients. Completing this work and identifying ways to improve existing laws and regulations cannot proceed without strong leadership at the top of FDA.”
One of the industry’s top priorities is to delay new nutrition labeling requirements that are set to take effect in 2018 until 2021 to line up with GMO disclosure regulations due out from the Agriculture Department. Gottlieb has indicated that he is open to the idea, telling the HELP committee that it creates confusion for consumers if food labels “are constantly changing.”
Gottlieb also appeared to agree with committee member Pat Roberts when the Kansas senator said he was concerned that FDA had focused on nutrition policy over protecting the nation’s food supply.
Farm groups, meanwhile, are counting on Lighthizer to join Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in working to expand food and agricultural exports. At his confirmation hearing, Lighthizer said he would protect the needs of farmers and ranchers while the North American Free Trade Agreement is renegotiated. “I do believe it can be done. I’m not suggesting that it will be easy, but I do believe it can be done,” he said.
A provision in the fiscal 2017 budget agreement that Trump signed into law on Friday gave Lighthizer a waiver for legal work that he did for overseas interests years ago. Lighthizer’s confirmation hearing was March 15, but Democrats delayed committee and floor action on his nomination, insisting that he have the waiver.
Some 138 food and agriculture trade groups wrote senators recently, urging Lighthizer’s confirmation. “U.S. trade interests are imperiled by delay, during which foreign competitors are ramping up efforts to supplant U.S. leadership and take away U.S. market share while nervous U.S. foreign customers seek out non-U.S. suppliers to meet their import requirements to ensure basic food security for their people,” the letter said.
Also this week, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, which sets fees and deadlines for registration decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency. The law, originally enacted in 2003, expires in September.
The House passed a bill in March, the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act, that would extend the registration law for seven years and increase fees for manufacturers. A coalition including CropLife America, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources Defense Council, Farmworker Justice, and others support the reauthorization of PRIA.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said the reauthorization bill would provide “certainty for an industry full of risk and unpredictability” while protecting the public from deadly diseases such as West Nile and Zika.
The House is in recess this week.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, May 8
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, May 9
USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee spring meeting, through Wednesday, Hyatt Regency Crystal City.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Water Resources: The Role of the Public and Private Sectors,” 406 Dirksen.
Wednesday, May 10
10 a.m. - Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on state views toward the Endangered Species Act, 406 Dirksen.
2:30 p.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on water and power related bills, 366 Dirksen.
Thursday, May 11
Partnership for a Healthier America summit, through Friday morning, Renaissance Washington.
9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act, 328A Russell.
12:30 p.m. - Environmental Law Institute forum, “What’s in store for the WOTUS rule?” 1101 K St. NW.
Friday, May 12
Partnership for a Healthier America summit.
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