October 30, 2017

October 2017 D.C. policy update

By Lowell Randel and Walt Smith, ASAS D.C. Representatives

October proved an eventful month in animal agriculture in Washington with movement occurring on the Farm Bill and confirmation processes on Capitol Hill, as well as several policy shifts in the Administrative branch changing the regulatory landscape.

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees continue to gather testimony on the current Farm Bill and hold listening sessions and hearings to lay the foundation for the anticipated 2018 rewrite of the bill.  Listening session and Committee field visits were held in both Texas and New York by the House Agriculture Committee. While a large portion of the Texas tour was focused on surveying damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Committee members and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue also took the time to speak with commodity interests and producers in West Texas during the visit. Cattle and other livestock organizations were present and took the opportunity to address the proposed vaccine bank which is being promoted by national livestock organizations. The listening session held in New York hosted producers from the region. Dairy issues, including altering the current milk price support program, along with the consistent need for additional emphasis on research, were leading topics.

The Senate Agriculture Committee spent much of its month focused on the confirmation of appointees to both the US Department of Agriculture and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Hearings were held for Stephen Censky, of Missouri, to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Ted McKinney, of Indiana, to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. Both were overwhelmingly passed out of Committee and approved by the whole Senate. They were sworn in the first week of the month. Other nominees put forth by the Agriculture Committee include Gregory Ibach, of Nebraska, to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs; and William Northey, of Iowa, to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. Ibach is of particular interest given the position and its oversight of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Grain Inspector and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). 

Still to be considered is the nomination of Dr. Sam Clovis as the Undersecretary of Research, Education and Economics. The Ranking Democrat Member of the Committee, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, has expressed serious concerns about his nomination which may make the confirmation process a rocky one. Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas has indicated they may hold a confirmation hearing for Dr. Clovis as early as the week of October 29.

Two major regulatory items that directly impact the livestock industry were advanced by the Administration this month. First, the Food and Drug Administration issued a proposal which would shift the way reporting of antimicrobials is done in the livestock industry.  Second, USDA has proposed the withdrawal of several proposed GIPSA rules which have been controversial. 

The FDA proposed change has been roundly rejected by animal groups as they have grave concerns over the accuracy of the data currently used and are worried the proposed new changes would exacerbate the inaccuracies in the current reporting system. The proposal would apply a “food animal biomass denominator" to annual data on antibiotics sold and distributed for use in animals for food production. When coupled with the sales data provided by manufacturers of the antibiotics, there are concerns that this reporting change could create a system whereby different livestock species would be placed in competition.  Manufacturers have conceded that the reported sales figures are less than accurate. The outcome would show if a commodity had reduced its overall use of antibiotics, but not address the issue of whether the antibiotics were used in a more responsible manner. 

The fiscal year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations process has been stalled over the last month with little emphasis on passing the bill.  The Federal government in operating under a Continuing Resolution until early December which creates little pressure for a quick completion of the process.  It is anticipated that either a final version of the FY 2018 funding measure, or a year-long Continuing Resolution will be passed when the current Continuing Resolution expires.