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House Ag Committee moves reauthorization bills forward

Grain Standards Act and Livestock Mandatory Reporting bills approved by voice vote.

Thursday the House Agriculture Committee approved by a voice vote during its business meeting bills to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act and Mandatory Price Reporting Act. The week prior each bill had a hearing to vet the proposals.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson said, “The United States Grain Standards Reauthorization Act of 2015 will continue the inspections provided by the Federal Grain Inspection Service. These inspections provide a ‘gold standard’ assurance, backed by the federal government, to both grain buyers and sellers. The current system is working well and this bill will ensure that we have quality, qualified inspectors on the job.”

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) supported the bill’s enhancements to the current act. Particularly it brings more transparency and accountability to the process USDA uses to delegate to state agencies its authority to conduct mandatory official inspections at export facilities. In addition, the bill reiterates the responsibility for USDA to provide official grain inspection services at export elevators on an uninterrupted basis. The bill also includes an important change to the flawed formula now used by USDA to set user fees charged to export elevators, which NGFA estimates has resulted in up to $12 million in overcharges.

NGFA had testified that reauthorization legislation should require USDA utilize independent third-party entities to perform official inspections at export facilities under the same licensing and oversight that applies to entities that provide official inspection services to domestic elevators. In a recent study conducted for NAEGA found that between 20 and 25% of U.S. exports of bulk grains, oilseeds and major coproducts currently are being re-inspected by these third-party entities in response to requests from foreign buyers. NGFA and NEAGA said they’ll continue to push for this inclusion as the bill proceeds.

On the Senate side, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its own hearing on the Grain Standards Act reauthorization on Tuesday, May 5. Witnesses include NGFA, NAEGA, American Soybean Assn. and the American Assn. of Grain Inspection and Weighing Agencies.

The House also approved its bill on reauthorizing the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act which allows producers and packers to access timely and accurate information regarding the price of the products they buy and sell. House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said after hearing from stakeholders, he was pleased the committee found a bipartisan consensus on the bill.

This reauthorization contains a number of industry-specific modifications proposed by the pork producers and sheep producers. It also included a provision that responds generally to industry concern regarding USDA’s arbitrary decision to shut this mandatory program down for several days during the lapse in appropriations that occurred in 2013 while other mandatory programs were deemed essential.

Conaway said negotiations are continuing between meat packers and cattlemen that may result in further amendments, but these discussions “may take days or possibly even weeks to complete.” He said he was hopeful that the meat packers will ultimately agree to the modifications requested by the cattlemen.

Each bill expires at the end of September. Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said he doesn’t anticipate any major obstacles on passing the reauthorization bills through the chambers to achieve passage before expiration.

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