HOUSE PANEL REPORTS AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS
The House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee has approved fiscal 2004 spending levels for USDA, reporting $17 billion in discretionary spending and $60.5 billion in total mandatory appropriations. That compares with $17.88 billion in fiscal 2003 and is slightly less than the $17.14 billion requested by President Bush.
However, the panel also denied funding for USDA to carry out country of origin labeling on meat, saying the labeling could be costly and difficult for the meat industry to implement.
The labeling law was part of last year's farm law and was to implemented on a voluntary basis first before becoming mandatory later. USDA has projected a $1.9 billion cost to keep records on where animals are born, raised and slaughtered.
National Farmers Union expressed "grave concern" about the decision. "It is inconceivable that this would be attempted at a time of heightened concerns from America's consumers and trading partners about the origin of our meat," NFU President Dave Frederickson said. "Country-of-origin labeling is about educating consumers and providing opportunities for producers to promote their high quality products." He said Frederickson added that this is just the beginning of what will be a very long, contentious debate.
The National Pork Producers Council wants Congress to repeal the mandatory provision of the country-of-origin labeling law for hogs and pork products and replace it with a voluntary COOL program. NPPC believes that a mandatory program imposes huge risks and costs on America's pork producers without a way for producers to recoup these costs at the U.S. retail meat case.
Some highlights of the appropriations bill:
• Agricultural credit program loan authorizations are decreased by $551.4 million below last year. Total loan authorization level is $3.386 billion, $132.8 million below the President's request.
• Rural Housing loan authorizations total loan authorization level is $4.365 billion, $208.7 million above last year, and $45.7 million above the President's request.
• The Agricultural Research Service is funded at $1.05 billion, a decrease of $103.9 million below last year (excluding last year's supplemental), and an increase of $38.6 million above the President's request.
• Risk Management Agency / Federal Crop Insurance Corporation: RMA is funded at $71.5 million, an increase of $1.26 million above last year and a decrease of $6.979 million below the President's request. The Corporation (Mandatory) is funded at $3.368 billion, an increase of $482 million above last year, and the same as the President's request.
• Conservation operations activities are increased by $30.4 million over last year, bringing FY 04 funding to $850 million, an increase of $146.4 million above the President's request.
• Spending for the Food Safety and Inspection Service is increased by $30.4 million over last year, for a total of $785.3 million, $11.9 million below the President's request. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service activities are funded at $37.8 million above last year for a total of $730.5 million, an increase of $30.6 above the President's request.