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Agriculture News As It Happens

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House Ag passes state trade, COOL amendments, rejects USDA catfish inspection repeal

The House Agriculture Committee late tonight passed controversial amendments that would make it illegal for states to stop the movement of agricultural products from other states even if they violate their standards and that would require the Agriculture Department to submit a report on the implementation of the World Trade Organization on country-of-origin labeling.

Interstate trade


The amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is obviously aimed at the state of California, which has passed an initiative that requires egg-laying chickens to be housed in cages of a certain size and said that eggs sold in the state would have to be produced in certain ways.

King said the amendment would enforce the Commerce Clause. The amendment says, “The government of a state or locality therein shall not impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce” if the production occurs in another state and follows federal law.

Rep. Kirk Schrader, D-Ore., asked for a point of order but House Agriculture Commitee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said that time had passed. Schrader asked Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., if the House Judiciary Committee would not consider it in its jurisdiction.

Goodlatte, a member of that committee, said he believed it could be limited, but that if it showed up at Judiciary he would support it. King said that he had written it to be limited to agriculture products and therefore believed it would be under Agriculture jurisdiction.

Schrader also said he believed it would be so controversial it would give the House leadership a reason not to bring the bill to the floor. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said that the amendment would make it difficult for California to deal with the impact of the initiative.

But Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said, “This is one of the most important amendments we may consider this evening.” Noting that Indiana has several large egg production plants, Stutzman said that states are going to have a surplus of eggs if they cannot sell them in California.

“This amendment Mr. King has put together is the fix,” Stutzman said.

Lucas urged King to consider the issues carefully, but King did not withdraw the amendment, and it passed on a voice vote.

Country-of-origin labeling


Reps. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., introduced an amendment to require the USDA to submit an amendment 90 days after passage of the farm bill detailing the steps the secretary will take to comply with the ruling that the U.S. program of country-of-origin labeling violates WTO rules.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., noted that the WTO said that the labeling program is legal but that animals from Mexico and Canada had not received equal treatment, and noted that USDA is trying to revise the program.

Peterson urged a “no” vote, but it passed on a record vote of 34 to 12.

Groups that favor labeling opposed it, fearing that it could lead to an attempt in Congress to revise the labeling regime.

“The solutions to COOL implementation issues found by the WTO can be achieved through some simple regulatory adjustments handled by USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative,” the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said. “Congress does not need to tamper with the law as it is written.”

Catfish inspection


But the committee rejected an amendment that would have repealed a provision in the 2008 farm bill that moved catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to the Agriculture Department.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., who said that the measure is duplicative and is causing trade conflict.

But Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., argued vigorously is that the move is needed, and Peterson said the measure is not duplicative because it would move the inspection from one agency to another.

The vote failed on a vote of 25 to 20.

The Senate included the provision by a unanimous vote, but it has been vigorously opposed in U.S. catfish-producing areas.