Legislative Update from D.C.

Tyler Mac Innis serves as NFFC’s Emerson National Hunger Fellow.  He will be following Farm Bill implementation and making regular updates on the process here.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared before the House Agriculture Committee last week to discuss the state of the rural economy and field questions on the implementation of the Farm Bill.  Over the past few weeks USDA officials have appeared before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to discuss USDA’s proposed budget for FY2015.  And as always, bills are being introduced on the Hill that would have real impacts on the lives of  farmers.  Here are some key highlights:

Free Trade Remains a Focus for USDA
While Secretary Vilsack acknowledged rural communities are struggling, USDA considers record agricultural exports in meats and commodities as positive signs.  Secretary Vilsack recommitted USDA to working in favor of the ongoing TTIP and TPP trade negotiations saying they offer a “terrific opportunity” to increase agricultural exports, but that he wants to make sure the US gets a “fair deal.”  The USDA is expecting a ruling from the WTO on country of origin labeling (COOL) in June or July.  In recent House Appropriations hearings, Congress asked USDA what it plans to do should the WTO decide that COOL violates the United States’ free trade agreements.  USDA has consistently said that they are confident the WTO will rule in their favor and they await that decision.

 

USDA Remains Open to GMO’s
In a House Appropriations hearing last week, Under Secretary Edward Avalos defended the department’s pace in deregulating GMO crops.  Republican members questioned why the USDA takes nearly two years to deregulate these products to which Under Secretary Avalos responded the department is committed to deregulation, but wants to make sure it is done in a way that avoids future litigation that could pull the crops off the market.  In his hearing before the House Agriculture Committee, Secretary Vilsack affirmed that GMO’s “are not a safety issue” and that in the battle of GMO crops versus organics, “there is room for everyone.”

 

Bill Introduced in House to Give FDA Authority on GMO Labeling
Yesterday Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced H.R. 4432 which would give the FDA authority on GMO labeling.  The FDA is already on record as saying biotechnology is not a food safety concern and that labeling should be voluntary.  Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) responded to the bill, “This bill is nothing but an attempt by chemical companies like Monsanto and giant food industry players to stop grassroots efforts around the country to require GMO labeling. Citizen legislatures like ours in Maine have passed laws saying consumers have the right to know what kind of food they are buying, but this bill would reverse those efforts and block those laws.”

 

Information About New Safety Net Programs Out by Summer’s End
Information regarding new safety net programs should be expected before the end of summer.  Secretary Vilsack acknowledged farmers need information about the operation of these programs ASAP and the department is currently trying to determine how best to use the $3 million allocated by Congress in the Farm Bill for education outreach.  The goal is to give producers enough time to understand the programs so they are able to adequately plan for the the 2015 growing season.

 

No New Information Regarding the Dairy Margin Insurance Program
We are still awaiting information about the new Dairy Margin Insurance Program.  USDA has said it expects the program to be up and running by the September 2014 deadline.  Secretary Vilsack was asked last week about the timeline to bring California dairy farmers into the federal order system; he replied that USDA would offer a formal proposal sometime this spring which would need to be followed by rule-making and producers’ consent.

 

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