Washington outlook - March 2019
Friday, March 15, 2019
Posted by: Lauren Brey
By Aaron Stauffacher, associate director of government affairs
The 116th Congress has been on the job for a few months, but much of the members’ time was taken up finding a resolution to end the government shutdown.
With the farm bill behind Congress, several priorities for agriculture remain, most notably trade and a solution to the labor shortage. A comprehensive labor proposal is yet to be introduced in either chamber, but preliminary efforts are underway at the White House and in the House Judiciary Committee. Ag policy pundits are optimistic that this session could be the one when a much-needed solution is approved. However, it is unknown how the border security funding debate will become entwined in the process.
Thank you to all who submitted comments in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) dairy labeling register urging a crackdown on non-dairy products using dairy terms. Edge submitted comments along with results of a study the cooperative co-commissioned showing customer confusion over plant-based cheese imitations. Shortly after the comment period ended, a citizen petition was filed by the National Milk Producers Federation putting additional pressure on FDA.
However, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced he was leaving his post at the end of March. He departs in the midst of a number of regulatory issues, including developing guidance for labeling imitation dairy products, creating a regulatory framework for cell-cultured meat and defining the term “healthy” for food products.
Edge continues to urge Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the removal of tariffs with respect to Mexico and Canada. Mexican and Canadian legislators have yet to approve the deal as well, as pressure mounts to end the tariff tit-for-tat among the three countries. Steel and aluminum tariffs continue to hang over commodity markets. There is no definite timetable to lift them, but the administration is signaling progress.
After the government shutdown delayed the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ability to implement the 2018 farm bill, the department is working to enact the legislative changes ahead of the 2019 growing season. Opening the revised dairy safety net, Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC), has been a top priority, according to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
USDA announced DMC enrollment will open June 17 with payments starting as early mid-July. Decision-making tools could be available in April along with Margin Protection Program refund payments coming out at that time. USDA reported the January 2019 margin between milk prices and feed costs was $7.99.