WASHINGTON, July 26, 2017 - The Senate and House are moving fiscal 2018 appropriations bills for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration that could make it easier to write a farm bill while pushing the Trump administration to curb regulations on a number of nutrition issues.
Some of the most far-reaching provisions, with significant implications for the upcoming farm bill debate, would provide $1 billion in new assistance to cotton and dairy farmers. The provisions, which are only in the Senate bill, would make cottonseed eligible for the Price Loss Coverage program and lower the cost to dairy producers of the Margin Protection Program and increase the prospects for payments.
While the House bill has no similar provisions, leaders of the House Agriculture Committee pushed hard to get similar assistance for cotton included in the fiscal 2017 agreement. The House committee chairman, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says the PLC provision in the Senate spending bill just doesn’t go far enough. Still, the $1 billion in additional funding, or “baseline,” would make it easier for the Agriculture committees to write the new farm bill. (The Senate bill would set the PLC reference price for cottonseed at $15 per hundredweight, well under the $15.88 sought by the National Cotton Council earlier this year.)
For other growers who rely on the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, the Senate bill would continue a pilot program allowing for an alternate calculation method for ARC payments when there is insufficient data available from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The spending bills are accompanied by committee reports that explain the appropriators’ intentions and provide committee views and directives on various issues of concern to lawmakers. The report language doesn’t have the force of law but agencies take it seriously. Reports are carefully written. In some cases, agencies are encouraged to take an action. In others, they are directed to do so.
Here are some other highlights of the bills and committee reports:
The Senate bill rejects Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to eliminate the undersecretary for rural development. USDA would be required to maintain the position. But Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who got the provision added to the bill, said he’s concerned it wouldn’t be carried out.
The Senate Appropriations Committee report would “encourage” Perdue to nominate a deputy undersecretary for conservation under the new undersecretary for farm and conservation programs.
The House Appropriations report says the new undersecretary for trade at USDA should focus on enforcing existing trade agreements as well as promoting increased exports.
Research: Both the House and Senate are rejecting the deep cuts in agricultural research spending proposed by Trump. Senate appropriators were more generous.
The Senate bill would provide $1.82 billion for the Agriculture Research Service, up from $1.17 billion in fiscal 2017 and the $993 million requested by Trump for FY18. ARS would get $1.13 billion under the House bill.
National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA): The Senate bill would provide $855 million, up from $849.5 million in FY17. The House bill has $830.4 million.
Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, provides competitive grant awards under NIFA: Both the House and Senate would provide $375 million, the same as in FY17. Trump asked for $349 million.
Biotechnology: The House bill would provide $1.5 million to FDA to continue an effort aimed at educating consumers on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts of biotechnology. However, the Senate committee isn’t going along. The committee’s report says the panel “accepts” the White House proposal to eliminate funding for the initiative.
The Senate also would mandate labeling of genetically engineered salmon, due to an amendment proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Antibiotic resistance: The House Appropriations report cautions the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to work with producers and veterinarians in planning its on-farm surveying of antibiotic resistance. The committee “expects the surveys to be limited to collecting information about the antibiotics used and should not be utilized for other regulatory purposes,” the report says.
China: The House bill would require USDA to show that China’s poultry inspection program is “equivalent” to the U.S. system before allowing imports of Chinese chicken. The House committee report directs USDA to produce a report detailing the measures the department will take to guarantee the adequacy of the Chinese inspection system and to ensure that China will report all poultry recalls and disease outbreaks in a timely fashion.
Federal officials have told Agri-Pulse that they are satisfied with their adequacy of the Chinese inspection agency and don’t believe the legislative language would block USDA from lifting the ban on chicken imports.
Food aid: Lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill are thoroughly rejecting the president’s attempt to kill international food aid programs.
Trump proposed to get rid of both Food for Peace, which provides U.S. commodities to alleviate hunger, and the McGovern-Dole international school feeding program. The Senate bill instead would fund Food for Peace at $1.6 billion, up from $1.47 billion in FY17, and increase McGovern-Dole by $5 million to $206.5 million. Under the House bill, Food for Peace would get a cut in FY17 to $1.4 billion, while McGovern-Dole would be held steady.
The House committee, in its FY18 State-Foreign Operations spending bill, has also maintained a separate account, International Development Assistance, that is used to provide food aid in the form of cash and vouchers.
FOOD and NUTRITION
SNAP retailer standards: Both the House and Senate bills would continue to block implementation of an Obama administration rule that increases the variety of foods that retailers must offer to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
USDA would be required under the bills to rework the Obama rule to increase the number of items that qualify as acceptable varieties in each staple food category. Similar provisions were written into USDA’s FY17 spending legislation.
School meal standards: The House bill extends the waiver for a whole grain requirement and blocks a further reduction in sodium limits. The committee report applauds actions by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to ease the standards and encourages USDA “to find additional ways to provide schools with school lunch pricing flexibility and other long-term certainty in implementing the school meals programs.”
School shaming: The House report directs USDA to issue recommended standards for schools to follow to protect children from public embarrassment when they have unpaid meal fees.
Menu labeling: The Trump administration has given restaurant chains and supermarket delis until next May to comply with nutrition labeling requirements imposed under the Affordable Care Act. But the House committee report says FDA should make sure that state and local agencies don’t enforce the regulations “until after a potential revised rule is promulgated and effective.”
Natural: The House committee report directs FDA to report within 60 days on its actions and timeframe for defining the term “natural.”
Nutrition facts label: The House committee report “encourages” FDA to delay the deadline for complying with changes to the nutrition facts panel until USDA imposes the disclosure requirements for biotech ingredients.