WASHINGTON, July 12, 2017 – The House Appropriations Committee advanced a fiscal 2018 funding bill for the Agriculture Department that directs the agency to ensure the safety of imported chicken from China before allowing shipments to begin.

A manager’s amendment to the bill directs USDA to bar the imports until it produces a report ensuring China can provide the same carcass-by-carcass inspection that USDA does through the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The appropriators also want assurances China will report all poultry recalls and disease outbreaks in a timely fashion.

The Trump administration is moving to allow imports of Chinese-produced chicken as part of an agreement under which China has resumed imports of U.S. beef.

The bill language “makes sure FSIS does its job,” said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, which represents the U.S. industry. “We’re pleased that the committee voted to keep the process moving forward.”

A department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the bill’s language would not prevent USDA from going forward with allowing the imports.

But Tony Corbo, a food safety specialist with Food and Water Watch, said the bill’s requirement that the Chinese inspection system be “equivalent” to USDA’s would apply to “the whole country, not just two provinces. The provision would give a basis to challenge the equivalence determination” that was based on a 2015 audit. 

Food Safety and Inspection Service records indicate that auditors focused on government inspection programs in the Shandong and Anhui province as well as local inspection offices that oversea the chicken processing plants that would be exporting to the U.S.

The funding bill, which rejects key White House proposals to gut funding for agricultural research, rural development and international food aid, would provide $20 billion for so-called discretionary spending programs at USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That would be a $876 million cut from fiscal 2017 but a $4.64 billion increase over what Trump requested for FY18.

Programs such as farm subsidies, crop insurance, food stamps that are considered mandatory spending are largely unaffected by the bill.

The measure, which was approved on a voice vote, now moves to the House floor but the legislation could be rolled together with bills funding other departments and agencies. The Senate has yet to begin work on its version of the legislation.

Before approving the Agriculture spending bill, the House committee approved several amendments, including one by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., that would allow rural housing financed with USDA loans to be used to house temporary foreign farmworkers brought in under the H-2A visa program.

The USDA loan program for farmworker housing is currently restricted to U.S. citizens and permanent U.S. residents.

Another amendment that was adopted would bar the CFTC from regulating inter-affiliate swaps. Companies that are subsidiaries of a larger firm are considered affiliated, as are companies where one owns less than a majority of the other’s stock. The amendment, proposed by Steve Womack, R-Ark., incorporates portions of the House-passed Commodity End-User Relief Act, and also would require CFTC to analyze the economic costs and benefits of new regulations.

The committee narrowly rejected, 25-27, an amendment to extend the existing ban on USDA inspection of horse slaughter. The ban, which has stronger support in the Senate, effectively outlaws the slaughter of horses in the United States.

Here are some other provisions in the bill, including the manager’s amendment, and the accompanying committee report, which is non-binding:

--Some $1.5 million is provided to USDA and FDA to continue the process of educating consumers on the safety and benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

--Another $1 million is provided to provide access to healthy food in low-income areas.

--The bill rejects Trump’s proposed closure of 17 agricultural facilities and directs USDA to reallocate funding from research efforts that have matured to more immediate priorities.

--The report language urges USDA to approve another round of ginning cost-share payments for the cotton industry.

--USDA is directed to work with the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department to develop data and recommendations on rural broadband expansion. Among other things, the report is supposed to estimate the cost of increasing download speeds to at least 25 megabits per second in areas that don’t have that level of service now.

--USDA’s Economic Research Service is directed to study the quantity and types of food that are wasted on farms and the barriers to recovering that produce.

--USDA is told to “promptly finish” reviewing animal welfare inspection information on its website and then to restore all legally permissible records that were previously removed, and resume posting new information. The department closed the inspection record to public view after the new administration took office earlier this year.

--The committee endorsed the creation of the new under secretary position at USDA for trade but said that the office should focus not only on the “promotion and sales of American agricultural products” but also on “trade enforcement and related activities, which will help level the playing field for U.S. agricultural interests in international markets.”

Bill Tomson contributed to this report.