Thursday the Senate Agriculture Committee marked up and unanimously approved bipartisan legislation offered by chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act. In addition to reauthorizing the GSA for five years, the legislation includes several important provisions to ensure transparency and predictability in the export grain inspection system.
The Grain Standards Act expires September 30 and both Roberts and Stabenow expressed interest in moving the bill well ahead of the deadline. Similar comments have been expressed by House Agriculture Committee leadership which also has passed its version out of committee. The next step is floor consideration in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
A joint statement from the National Grain and Feed Assn. and the North American Export Grain Assn. welcomed that the bill the contains further enhancements of the management of the national grain inspection and weighing system that were wisely included in similar legislation approved in April by the House Agriculture Committee.
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 and NAEGA estimate will result in up to $12 million in overcharges during the current and immediately preceding fiscal years.
Some changes in the Senate’s bill are intended to prevent future disruptions in export inspection services like what occurred last summer at the Port of Vancouver. Specifically, the legislation would require that for any state-delegated agency that intends to temporarily cease inspection services, that agency must provide 72 hour notice to USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS). USDA would then be required to immediately take the actions needed to address the disruption and resume inspection services. USDA would also be required to report to Congress within 24 hours of the disruption on the actions needed to enable inspections to resume.
Additionally, the legislation would require USDA to report to Congress regarding last year’s disruption, including information about the port facility, the security situation, and any policy changes made by USDA to prevent similar future disruptions.
State delegated agencies would be able to retain their authority under this legislation. However, USDA would be required to establish a certification process and require delegated agencies to be recertified every five years. The certification process would include an official 30-day public comment period. The bill also restricts the use of private entities for inspections of grain for export.
The legislation would also require a report to Congress on the barriers that U.S. grain producers face in exporting grain to countries that do not provide an official grade, or provide only the lowest designation, for U.S. grain. This provision is particularly relevant given Canada’s treatment of U.S. wheat where it receives only feed quality designation, no matter the quality. The provision in the bill would require an analysis of the possibility that such treatment is inconsistent with the country’s trade obligations, the U.S. Wheat Associates said in its weekly newsletter May 21.
NGFA and NAEGA remain disappointed that neither the House or Senate version allows USDA utilize qualified inspectors employed by independent third-party entities to perform official inspections at export facilities.
“As we pointed out when testifying before both congressional committees' hearings on reauthorization of this legislation, these highly qualified experts already are working at U.S. export elevators to perform non-U.S. official grade-determining testing services that often are requested by foreign customers and necessary to meet the needs of U.S. farmers, the value chain and global markets,” NGFA and NAEGA said. A recent study conducted for NAEGA found that between 20 and 25% of U.S. exports of bulk grains, oilseeds and major coproducts already are being re-inspected by these third-party entities in response to specific requests from foreign buyers.