Ag benefits

By Charlyn Fargo

There were a few extra benefits in the $1.1 trillion federal spending bill.

When President Barack Obama signed it into law recently, he also repealed mandatory country of origin labeling for beef and pork.

The original country of origin labeling bill was approved as part of the 2002 farm bill and required retailers to notify customers of the country of origin of certain commodities. Since then the World Trade Organization ruled the requirements discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers on Grade. A WTO arbitration panel allowed the two countries to retaliate against U.S. goods with over $1 billion in tariffs.

It’s not that beef and pork producers don’t want consumers to know where their meat is coming from, but it gets a little complicated when a calf may be born in Canada or Mexico, raised in the U.S. and finished back in Canada or Mexico or other countries. Just where is that beef from?

The federal spending bill also:

  • Extends bonus depreciation for five years, but will drop from 50 percent to 30 percent during those five years.
  • Extends biodiesel and cellulosic production tax credits for two years.
  • Exempts livestock farmers from greenhouse gas regulations.
  • Includes $2.9 billion for agricultural research programs, $1 billion for food and safety inspections and $864 million for conservation programs.
  • Increases the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program, which includes infrastructure and flood risk management by more than $500 million to $5.9 billion.
  • Ensures the 2015 Dietary Guidelines will be based on significant agreement and focused on nutritional and dietary information. As a registered dietitian that is dear to my heart.
  • Suspends the Health Insurance Tax.

Agricultural leaders were disappointed that the bill did not stop implementation of the Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS rule or create a national standard for labeling foods made with genetically modified organisms.

Those are both issues that remain top of the list for the American Farm Bureau.

Defeating WOTUS remains a priority of Farm Bureau,” said Bob Stallman, AFBF president in a news release. “We will explore all avenues to ditch the rule.”

AFBF had also lobbied for a national GMO labeling rule rather than have states pass individual rules. Vermont has passed a GMO rule that is set to go into effect in mid 2016.

A Senate committee, led by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is calling for passage of the nationwide labeling law. The U.S. House passed HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, last July, but the Senate has not taken that bill up.

Senator Stabenow wants the Senate bill to address the possibility of a 50-state patchwork of regulations and include a national system of disclosure and transparency for consumers who want to know more about what’s in their food. She also wants an approach that does not stigmatize biotechnology.

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