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Ag approps affects food aid, CFTC, GMOs and poultry growers

By JERRY HAGSTROM

International food aid and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission budget would be cut under a bill adopted today by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

The bill also contains provisions affecting the impact of judicial rulings on genetically modified seeds and a rule on poultry growers.

The Agriculture and related agencies appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 provides $19.4 billion in discretionary funding — a cut of $365 million below last year’s level, and a cut of $1.7 billion below President Barack Obama’s budget request.

Total spending under the bill would be $140.7 billion, but 86 percent of the money going to the Agriculture Department would be mandatory spending, mostly in the form of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits better known as SNAP or food stamps, and farm subsidies.

Both Republicans and Democrats praised House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., for writing a bill under difficult circumstances, and the subcommittee approved the bill by unanimous voice.

But Democrats complained bitterly about cuts to the CFTC, international food aid and a domestic food distribution program.

The vote to send the bill to the full House Appropriations Committee occurred after the subcommittee rejected 8 to 5, along party lines, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Rosa De Lauro, D-Conn., to increase funding for the CFTC.

The bill provides $180 million for the CFTC, a cut of $25 million below last year’s level and $128 million below Obama’s budget request. Democrats complained bitterly that the cut will make it difficult for the CFTC to implement the Dodd-Frank financial services law.

But Kingston said the MF Global failure occurred on the CFTC’s watch, and that he was also concerned about the commission’s overreach. Both Democratic and Republican House members have written the commission to avoid going beyond the bounds of the Dodd-Frank law, he said.

One provision would codify an Agriculture department practice of allowing seeds to stay in the ground even though a court rules that an environmental impact statement on the seeds must be filed. When a court ruled that a USDA analysis of the impact of planting genetically modified sugar beet seeds was inadequate, USDA allowed the seeds to stay in the ground, but the legality of that practice was uncertain.

The provision “provides growers clarity,” a Monsanto representative said. It applies to seeds that have already been approved and only until the full environmental impact statement is filed, the Monsanto representative added.

Another provision would keep USDA’s Grain Inspectors, Packers and Stockyards Administration from implementing a rule that is intended to protect contract poultry growers from company abuses.

The Rural Advancement Foundation International, a North Carolina group that supports poultry growers, said in a news release that the subcommittee “is using a back-door approach to overturn an existing regulation” that protects contract poultry growers from being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive equipment, gives farmers a contact at USDA if they have a contract dispute and keeps them from losing thousands of dollars if they get a flock from the company late, through no fault of their own.

The House Appropriations Committee posted a detailed statement on the bill on its website.