Ag Week Ahead: Trade, Ice Cream Take Center Stage on Hill

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By Casey Wooten

June 10 — Agriculture trade is getting the spotlight on Capitol Hill, with two hearings focused on U.S. crop and livestock exports and commodity trading.

The House's tax-writing Ways and Means Committee will step in to the agriculture policy world June 14 when its trade subcommittee holds a hearing on eliminating barriers to U.S. agriculture exports.

The hearing comes as Congress still needs to approve the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The deal could have a major impact on U.S. crop and livestock exports by reducing tariffs, though some groups such as the National Farmers Union say it would increase foreign competition as well.

The administration continues to push lawmakers to approve the deal. In April, U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator Darci Vetter said that the TPP wouldn't hurt small farmers because they would gain access to new markets (See previous story, 04/26/16).

The House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit will meet June 14 to review the impact of clearing and trade execution requirements put forth by the Group of 20. Those requirements tighten rules for member nations' commodity trading markets.

Dairy Hits the Hill

It's June, and for Capitol Hill workers that means one thing: free ice cream.

The International Dairy Foods Association is hosting its 34th annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party June 15, where staffers, lawmakers and industry representatives gather for an afternoon of free ice cream, frozen yogurt, root beer floats and other dairy treats.

But it's not all scoops of vanilla and chocolate. The event caps off two days of congressional visits by association members, who will no doubt have a lot to say about product labeling this year.

In May, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill that would create a uniform safety and quality date labeling system. The measure would in part require manufacturers and retailers to use the standard language of “best if used by” for expiration dates instead of region-by-region standards.

And as usual, rules for labeling genetically modified organisms is at the forefront as well. For dairy farmers, the issue is whether to label milk, cheese or other dairy products as made with GMOs if the cows consume genetically modified feed. The IDFA opposes state-by-state GMO labeling rules, saying that it would make it difficult for companies to label regional or national products.

GMO Talks Continue

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are still trying to reach a compromise on a nationwide labeling standard for foods made with genetically modified organisms. At issue is still whether to have a mandatory or voluntary labeling system, as well as what the label will look like and whether livestock that consumes genetically modified feed should also get the GM label.

Roberts told reporters June 9 that talks were “productive” and work will continue at the staff level.

The clock is ticking, however. A Vermont law creating a mandatory labeling standard is set to go into effect July 1, and even if senators reach a deal they must still move it through the House, where Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) remains a staunch supporter of a voluntary-only labeling bill (See previous story, 06/08/16).

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at