The House on Thursday night passed the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, a measure to fund most of the governments' operations through Sept. 30, 2015.
The bill included several ag riders that affect creation of a second beef checkoff and the future of Country of Origin Labeling and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
Country of Origin labeling
The bill included a provision that requires the USDA Secretary to submit a report with his recommendations for any changes in the Federal law required to bring the Country of Origin Labeling program into compliance with international trade obligations.
This report would need to be submitted within 15 days of the appeal decision from the WTO or by May 1, 2015, whichever comes first.
Beef industry groups have differing views on COOL, with the U.S. Cattlemen's Association supporting it on the grounds that it provides needed information to the consumer and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association suggesting it hurts trade relationships.
"This failed legislation has cost U.S. cattle producers in the form of lost revenue and added costs for labeling, all for a program that has not shown benefits to consumers or greater consumption of beef," NCBA President Bob McCan commented in a press statement Thursday. "It is time to fix COOL before our economy is damaged by retaliatory tariffs or our trade relationships are permanently damaged."
In a letter prior to the bill's passage, USCA and the National Farmers Union said they were concerned the language in the bill could be used as an "opportunity to stop the appeals process" on COOL.
The report also directs the Secretary of Agriculture not to implement a second beef checkoff.
Again, beef industry groups remain split on the issue, with NFU taking a stance of support – arguing in a statement on the proposal for a second checkoff that it would bring a benefit to farmers and ranchers by being "devoted to research and market development, but divorced from all political, policy advocating organizations."
The NCBA, however, stands by a singular checkoff. "With 78% support by cattle producers and an $11.20 return on every dollar invested, the Beef Checkoff has been an immense success," NCBA's McCan said. "Congress has made it clear that they support cattlemen and women and oppose a government-run, duplicative beef checkoff under the 1996 Generic Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act."
Environmental, wildlife issue
The bill also would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the Waters of the United States Interpretative rule.
Ag groups have railed against the Waters of the U.S. proposal and its interpretive rule since its release in the spring. NCBA says the IR threatens rancher/farmer relationships with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"The EPA's Interpretative rule would have had unintended consequences for agricultural producers nationwide, making the Natural Resources Conservation Service a regulatory agency by prescribing limited production practices," McCan said.
"While we, along with all of agriculture, were disappointed Congress did not defund EPA's larger Waters of the United States efforts, this was a first step demonstrating the concerns of landowners."
The bill also contained language to continue the defunding of the GIPSA provisions and language on a number of environmental regulations. Specifically, the bill prevents funding for the EPA to require cattle producers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for livestock and to prevent mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems, NCBA said.
The bill also prohibits funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and includes $15 million within the Bureau of Land Management budget for sage grouse conservation.
The conservation funding, said the Public Lands Council, is continuing the efforts already underway to protect the species and its habitat; helping to prevent a future listing.
The bill now moves to the Senate.
News sources: NCBA/NFU/USCA