Ag Funding Advances in House

Bill Includes More Funds for Avian Flu Response, Blocks Beef Imports From Brazil, Argentina

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
The overall total of the fiscal year 2016 Agriculture appropriations bill is $143.9 billion including mandatory nutrition and farm program spending, while the total in discretionary spending is $20.65 billion, which is $175 million lower than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.1 billion below the president's budget request for the year. (DTN file photo)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a fiscal year 2016 Agriculture appropriations bill to fund the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Farm Credit Administration.

Among the provisions in the funding bill, is one that would stop importation of beef from certain areas of Argentina and Brazil even though APHIS announced last week during the visit of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that it considers importation of beef from those areas to be safe.

The committee also adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., to require the Food and Drug Administration to make partially hydrogenated oils "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) during the three-year period in which companies are supposed to phase them out.

Harris said FDA gave the companies three years to comply with the phase-out, but then said they were not generally recognized as safe. This has made food companies that continue to use the oils fear lawsuits over the issue. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.

The overall total of the bill is $143.9 billion including mandatory nutrition and farm program spending, while the total in discretionary spending is $20.65 billion, which is $175 million lower than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.1 billion below the president's budget request for the year.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the Agriculture bill is "a strong appropriations bill that accomplishes what it seeks to do," while House Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the funding levels in the Ag bill and others are so low and unacceptable to the Senate and to President Barack Obama that "the bills we are considering in committee are a bridge to nowhere."

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, said the White House was going to have to get tougher to fight the budget cuts. Noting that White House veto threats on many appropriations bills have not had much impact, Farr said, "The White House is going to have to get a lot tougher."

"This year Republicans stick together more than in the past," Farr said in a discussion of the failure of his amendment to continue a ban on USDA inspection of horse meat for human consumption.

There were conflicting reports on how the bill would affect the fight against highly pathogenic avian influenza. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said the bill provides USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) $871 million, $15 million more than Obama requested.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, noted that APHIS's veterinary division has lost 225 employees in recent years and said that she hopes funding to return APHIS to its pre-sequestration level can be achieved before the bill reaches the House floor.

DeLauro also offered an amendment that she said would make sure the trade promotion authority bill that recently passed Congress would not affect catfish regulation. Aderholt said he would accept DeLauro's amendment, and it passed by voice vote.

The amendment does not use the word "catfish," but refers to certain sections of laws and regulations.

The committee also directed USDA to evaluate its policies on urban agriculture and report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees on how to "further advance urban agriculture."

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said the provision is important, noting that a fish farm has recently opened in Minneapolis.

The only other Republican besides Harris to offer an amendment was Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. Fortenberry proposed that a provision in the bill that re-establishes commodity certificates adhere to existing law on payment limitations, which are set at $125,000 for a farmer or $250,000 for a married couple.

Aderholt opposed the amendment, saying the provision's purpose was to provide for flexibility and orderly marketing. Fortenberry gained substantial Democratic support for the amendment, but it failed on a voice vote.

Unlike past years, the bill does not contain a rider prohibiting USDA's Grain inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) from issuing certain regulations to ensure fairness in the marketing of livestock and poultry.

"It's wonderful that after all of these years, key regulations overseen by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration will finally be funded," National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a news release.

"Funding these protections will ensure adequate notice of termination of contract and recourse from retaliation and is essential to ensuring farmers and growers have fair and equitable conditions in a marketplace characterized by increased concentration," said Johnson.

The GIPSA ban became a public controversy after TV comedian John Oliver took up the cause. Kaptur, a vigorous advocate for small poultry farmers, and singer Willie Nelson wrote in The Washington Post earlier this week that "The powerful meat lobby has pressured Congress year after year to block funding to enforce these rules."

Among the amendments defeated during the markup was a proposal by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that would end crop insurance subsidies for farmers who make more than $750,000 per year. Pingree wanted to use the savings to books funding for conservation programs.

(CC/AG)

Jerry Hagstrom