House Ag approves livestock reporting and grain standards bills with new provisions | TSLN.com

House Ag approves livestock reporting and grain standards bills with new provisions

The House Agriculture Committee last Thursday approved a bill to reauthorize the Mandatory Livestock Price Reporting Act with a provision to make its collection of data a mandatory government service, and a bill to reauthorize the Grain Standards Act with a requirement to continue inspections if a state agency stops performing them.

The bills were approved by unanimous voice vote. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., urged his members to join Republicans in voting for the measures.

The Livestock Mandatory Report Act of 1999 expires Sept. 30, and some provisions of the United States Grains Standards Act of 1916 also expire on Sept. 30.

The provision making livestock reporting a mandatory service was inserted because the Agriculture Department stopped collecting that data during the 2013 sequester. USDA said that the current law does not make livestock reporting an "essential" government service during a lapse in appropriations.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said that the committee understands that not all meat industry participants "embrace this program," but that mandatory reporting "has become an essential tool for producers and packers to compete as the industry continues to evolve."

Conaway also noted that the mandatory reporting bill is not finished because meat packers and cattlemen are still negotiating over modifications to the program that the cattlemen have proposed.

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He noted that those discussions "may take days or weeks or even weeks to complete."

"While we remain hopeful that the meat packers will ultimately agree to the modifications requested by the cattlemen, we felt it important to leave those requests out of the bill for the time being so as not to prejudge the outcome of the industry discussions," Conaway said.

If agreement is reached by the time the bill comes up on the House floor, Conaway said, he would consider a request to add them at that time.

The grain standards bill provision to require the Agriculture Department to provide inspection services if a designated state agency does not provide the service was inserted because the Washington state Agriculture Department stopped inspecting grain at some ports during a labor dispute on the grounds that the situation was unsafe, and USDA did not step in to continue the service.

The National and Grain Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association said they are pleased the bill would require delegated state agencies to undergo the same notice-and-comment rulemaking process that applies to domestic state and private entities that provide official inspection services in the domestic market.

They are also pleased that the bill would require USDA to provide official grain inspection at exports on an uninterrupted basis and "includes an important change to the flawed formula now used by USDA to set user fees charged to export elevators, which we estimate has resulted in up to $12 million in overcharges."

But NGFA and the NAEGA said the legislation should require USDA to utilize qualified inspectors employed by independent third-party entities to perform official inspections at export facilities under the same licensing and oversight that applies to entities that provide official inspection services to domestic elevators.

"These highly qualified experts already are working at U.S. export elevators to perform non-U.S. official grade-determining testing services that often are requested by foreign customers and necessary to meet the needs of U.S. farmers, the value chain and global markets," the groups said.

"Further, a recent study conducted for NAEGA found that between 20 and 25 percent of U.S. exports of bulk grains, oilseeds and major co-products currently are being reinspected by these third-party entities in response to requests from foreign buyers. Utilizing these talented professionals would further strengthen the U.S. official grain inspection system, a point we'll continue to make as this legislation is further considered on its way to final enactment by Congress."

–Hagstrom Report