NAWG Weekly Update: July 23, 2015

House Passes Food Labeling Bill
Today the House passed HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, in a 275-150 vote. The bill, led by Rep. Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and co-sponsored by 106 House members, pre-empts states patchwork efforts to mandatory labeling of GMO products and create a USDA certification for non-GMO free products. Before final passage four amendments were defeated. NAWG praises passage of this bill, which establishes a uniform, science-based, voluntary food labeling standard. “The bipartisan efforts showcased today reflects the support from American consumers and farmers toward a consistent and transparent food label that is founded in science,” said NAWG President, Brett Blankenship, wheat grower from Washtucna, Wash.

House Agriculture Committee Holds USDA Oversight Hearing
On Wednesday, USDA Secretary Vilsack testified before the House Agriculture Committee during an oversight hearing of Department activities. Members of the Committee covered a range of topics in their questions, including discussion of the rule to establish conservation compliance requirements for crop insurance eligibility, the status of submission of AD-1026 forms, and the Department’s “actively engaged” proposed rule, among several other topics.

With respect to conservation compliance, there was a discussion about the relationship of the EPA’s Waters of the US rule and compliance requirements. Vilsack discussed how these are two separate issues, but also indicated that there may be some dis-clarity in how wetlands identified under the Clean Water Act may or may not be also identified as a wetland by NRCS.

The actively engaged rule was also a topic of interest for several members of the Committee. Vilsack discussed the Department’s intention to develop a rule that follows the Farm Bill requirement to update its rules for determining farm program eligibility, while also ensuring that family farms wouldn’t be affected.

Additional information about the hearing, including Vilsack’s testimony, can be found at this link.

Senate Finance Committee Approves Tax Extenders Bill
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee marked up legislation to extend several tax provisions that had expired at the end of 2014. Included in the bill were the Section 179 expensing provision and bonus depreciation provision. Earlier in the week, NAWG joined a broad coalition of agriculture organizations in writing the Financing Committee, urging inclusion of these important provisions for agriculture. It is unclear at this time when the bill will be considered by the full Senate. Read the full letter here.

SPCC Reform Bill Introduced
This week Representative Crawford (R-AR) introduced H.R. 3129, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, to increase the exemptions levels for farm compliance under the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulation. The bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set the level of on-farm above ground storage capacity exemption for a single container at less than 10,000 gallons and self-certification at less than 42,000 gallons aggregate storage if there is no history of a spill. Last year the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) included provisions to increase the exemption level from 1,320 gallons to between 2,500 and 6,000 gallons pending a study from EPA. Late last month, EPA released the required study and determined that the  lower level storage capacity of 2,500 gallons is   the appropriate level.  EPA must take action to update their regulation and information on their website to reflect the recent changes. NAWG supports a higher exemption level and supports the FUELS Act provisions to increase the exemption levels from 2,500 gallons to 10,000 gallons.

Monsanto Wheat Center Opening 
NAWG attended Monsanto Company’s Wheat Technology Center grand opening ceremony on July 16 in Filer, Idaho. The location near Twin Falls, Idaho will serve as the Monsanto’s core U.S. wheat breeding R&D facility and bring together people and processes to drive innovation in wheat breeding and further streamline the wheat breeding process. The expansion included a wheat seed cleaning facility, trial preparation and seed storage and two new greenhouse facilities.

NAWG President Brett Blankenship joined Idaho officials and Monsanto executives in addressing the importance of the Wheat Technology Center to all growers in improving innovation for wheat during ceremony.

“This is a big day for wheat growers to see the investment by Monsanto aimed to improve wheat productivity” said Brett Blankenship, NAWG’s President. “Monsanto’s Wheat Technology Center is visible evidence of private industry’s commitment to engage in the development of innovation for wheat, which is desperately needed if we are to supply the world’s growing population.”