December 6, 2014
The recent midterm elections have not only brought change to our nation’s capital, but directly to the Congressional committees with oversight of agriculture. Of specific interest to those are the Agriculture Committees and the Agriculture Appropriations Committees.
The big headline on election night, and since, has been the change of the Senate to Republican control. That change will bring new Chairmen and Ranking Members to the helm of all committees. On the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is the front runner for the Chairmanship. The current Ranking Member, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, is believed to be moving over to Chair the Senate Appropriations Committee and it would open the spot for Roberts. Should he be selected, Roberts would be the first person to ever have been Chairman of both the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee in his career. On the Democrat side of the isle it appears the current Chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, would remain the Ranking Minority, however there is a chance she would shift over to the Banking Committee Ranking Member position. Should that shift occur, it's thought Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would be tapped as the lead Democrat for the committee.
The Agriculture Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will also see some major changes. Its current Chairman, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, was defeated and will not be returning to Congress. It is unknown at this time who might be replacing him as the ranking Democrat, but two names have emerged as possibilities for Republican Chairman. The first is Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the current Ranking Member, and the second is Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.
On the House side the picture is much clearer. The current Agriculture Committee Chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma has been term-limited in his Chairmanship and must step down from that position and the new Chairman has already been selected. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas has been selected for the job. Conaway previously served as the Chairman of the Livestock Subcommittee and has a great understanding of animal issues. The Ranking Member will remain Rep. Colin Peterson of Minnesota.
On the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, the Chairman will remain Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. The Ranking Democrat is anticipated to remain Rep. Sam Farr of California.
While the shifts in leadership are substantial, the changes in actual committee membership will be just as important. Several long-serving members of both the House and Senate Agriculture and Agriculture Appropriations Committees either chose to retire or lost their bid for reelection. Educating their replacements on the importance of agriculture, and more specifically, the roll of animal agriculture, is a must in the coming months.
On November 20th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.R. 5656, the Feed the Future Global Food Security Act, which that would authorize the Feed the Future program, a joint effort between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program is designed to help boost food security and fight malnutrition in developing countries. To date, the program has operated without statutory authorization, using only the authority granted through appropriations. Companion legislation, S. 2909, has been introduced in the Senate, but there is been no committee action. The bill has bipartisan support, but faces uncertainty given the limited number of legislative days in the lame duck Congress.
The National Academies of Science (NAS) study entitled “Sustainability Considerations for the Future of Animal Agriculture Science Research” is nearing completion as the committee works through the final stages of the process. NAS recently stated that the publication date for the study will be announced in January 2015. The study began in February 2014 and was scheduled to be completed in 12 months.
GMO labeling initiatives were on the ballot in Oregon and Colorado for the November elections. Voters in Colorado sent a clear message that they did not support mandatory labeling of GMO products, defeating the initiative by a 2 to 1 margin. In Oregon, the vote was so close that it will require a recount. After canvassing all of the votes, the opposition is clinging to an 800 vote lead, well within the margin for an automatic recount.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing Dec. 10 on a bill that would pre-empt states from establishing their own labeling requirements for foods containing GMOs. H.R. 4432, sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), has some bipartisan support but in unlikely to move in the lame duck session.
On November 13th, representatives from major agriculture groups and agricultural technology companies announced that they had reached an agreement around a set of principles for use and control of data. The principles identified include: producer education, data ownership and control, notice, choice to opt in/out, transparency, portability, and data retention and availability. A copy of the principles can be found by clicking here.