DURING nearly four hours of debate May 29, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up its agriculture spending bill, which the agricultural subcommittee approved the week prior.
Hot topics included the National School Lunch Program waiver, the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rider and defunding horse slaughter facility inspections.
Members voted 31-18 to approve the bill, which provides $20.9 billion in discretionary funding. Including both discretionary and mandatory funding for various nutrition programs brings the bill's overall total to $142.5 billion.
Nearly half of the debate time was spent on an amendment proposed by subcommittee ranking member Rep. Sam Farr (D., Cal.) that would strike the language allowing schools, during the 2014-15 school year, to receive a waiver for complying with the new lunch standards after demonstrating six months of financial hardship.
Subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) said the bill "only" gives schools more time to implement nutrition standards, if needed, and doesn't change standards or undermine the law, as many Democrats were claiming during the markup.
Farr's amendment failed on a party-line vote of 22-29, but Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) said she would work with Aderholt on potential rewording to make sure it doesn't establish a permanent exit from the lunch program.
Farr warned that the school lunch part could create a "poison pen" when it comes to the full House for a vote that will "tie up the whole agriculture appropriations bill."
Earlier in the week, both First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were once again trying to drum up opposition to the waiver proposal. Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture already provided the appropriate flexibility in the school lunch program, so the waiver isn't necessary.
Vilsack said one concern with the waiver system is how to determine if a school is operating at a loss due to just the lunch standards rather than other assessed costs.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Ohio) made two attempts to return USDA's ability to implement provisions of the 2008 farm bill regarding the GIPSA law that was supposed to help farmers remain competitive and offer protections within marketing agreements.
Her first amendment to completely strike the GIPSA rider language failed by a vote of 18-31. Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.) said a major concern is that the GIPSA rule wouldn't require farmers to prove that they were harmed by competition, which could open up companies to "frivolous lawsuits that would end marketing agreements as we know them."
A more tailored amendment from Kaptur also failed by a vote of 20-29. It would have protected farmers from retaliatory actions if they spoke out to public officials, including members of Congress, about abusive practices, intimidation and coercion that occur in the industry.
The Senate's appropriations bill doesn't include the GIPSA rider, and a staff member from Kaptur's office said the more tailored approach may provide some middle ground during negotiations with the Senate.
The House version of the farm bill contained provisions that would have let livestock producers make their own marketing decisions and continued similar language provided in recent appropriations bills. However, the final farm bill did not limit USDA's ability to implement the rule.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R., Ga.) received approval for his amendment that adds $155 million to the Agricultural Research Service Building & Facilities account for the purchase, repair, improvement or construction of equipment and facilities, offset by a reduction in the Office of the Secretary and the Rural Water & Waste Disposal accounts.
This would be used to fund the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, which the Administration has prioritized for funding for several years.
For the past three years, the issue of whether to fund inspection at horse slaughter facilities has been under debate, but it was dropped from the 2013 and 2014 funding bills. Last year, language was retained in the omnibus bill package for 2014, and Rep. James Moran (D., Va.) won approval of an amendment to again de-fund inspections at U.S. horse slaughter facilities for fiscal 2015.
An amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) was approved that prohibits funds to purchase processed poultry from China for use in school lunch programs.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) — which was adopted on a voice vote — adds report language to encourage compliance with the Food & Drug Administration's 2012 scientific integrity policy and directs the FDA commissioner to ensure that agencies comply with the policy.
An amendment by Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R., Miss.) was approved that adds report language encouraging FDA to accept certain types of clear, visible calorie displays on products served from vending machines.
An attempt to reform sugar policy failed by a vote of 18-32.