IT'S not every week that the full House of Representatives tackles a bill important to agriculture, but last week, it had a handful of them.
Agricultural groups saw some major victories.
For the barnyard crew, a bill to repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule received a sound, bipartisan vote of support as 300 members voted in favor of the repeal.
It has been just weeks since the World Trade Organization issued its final ruling against the U.S. labeling scheme, and now, the "retaliation clock" is ticking.
On June 17, WTO will hold a meeting to hear formal requests from Mexico and Canada to retaliate against the U.S. because the COOL law does not comply with international trade rules. Retaliation means Mexico and Canada can impose costly tariffs on many U.S. products that are significant to the U.S. economy.
Under WTO rules, retaliation could happen as soon as this summer. Those nations are seeking more than $3 billion annually in retaliation, which, if implemented, would have disastrous consequences for U.S. jobs and exports.
Last Tuesday, the House passed three agricultural measures by a voice vote, including a bill reauthorizing livestock mandatory price reporting, the Grain Standards Act and the National Forest Foundation. The House also approved reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on a mostly party-line vote of 246-171.
At press time, the final House vote count for trade promotion authority (TPA) was unknown. TPA allows Congress to provide input on trade negotiations and gives the public 60 days to view any trade deal signed by the President before Congress votes up or down on the deal. If TPA fails to pass, it will be a significant setback to advancing trade agreements.
More work ahead
Congress will continue to tackle more big issues in the weeks ahead.
The House Energy & Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing for June 18 to debate a national framework for reviewing and labeling genetically modified organisms in food.
The Safe & Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, introduced by lead sponsor Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) on March 25, was referred to the energy and commerce committee and also the agriculture committee. Since that time, the committees have engaged in discussions to further develop the legislation.
House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said he hopes that as the legislative process continues, input from stakeholders as well as technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help ensure that the final text is "correct, workable and enjoys significant bipartisan support."
The labeling law has a big hill to climb, and this marks another important step in that process.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing July 7 on the impact of highly pathogenic avian influenza and the federal government's response.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) said the hearing represents an "important opportunity to bring leaders and key stakeholders together to review the pandemic spread of this deadly disease, identify areas for improvement within response procedures and set the stage to ensure we are better prepared in the future."
More than 47 million birds have been depopulated nationwide due to avian flu.