U.S. Congress Considering Drought Aid
November 2004 -- U.S. House and Senate leaders continue efforts to provide additional emergency aid for areas ravaged by recent hurricanes with consideration of including drought disaster funding as well.
The Senate included $3 billion in relief in its version of the 2005 Homeland Security Bill, now in conference with the House. The drought funding would include livestock assistance to help sheep producers fighting lessened feed and water supplies.
Congressional leaders, appropriators and the White House have not been able to come to an agreement on two key appropriations matters that are inter-related: The size of the relief measure for hurricane victims and the fate of a $3 billion Senate package of drought assistance for farmers and ranchers.
House Speaker, J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) said about drought aid in early October, ?I don't know yet ? we want to do what's right for folks."
?While drought conditions are not as widespread this year as last, they are severe where they do exist and producers are dealing with these conditions for the third to fifth year in a row,? says American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick. ?Congress is hearing from producers in those areas, and the opportunity to add drought to the emergency assistance packages to address other natural disasters is encouraging.?
Timing continues to be a crucial issue as the 108th Congress enters its closing days. Options exist from stand-alone legislation for emergency assistance to inclusion in an omnibus appropriations. However, action could well be in November, after the general election.
COOL for Seafood Delayed Six Months
Food companies fighting Congress? directive to start telling consumers whether the fish they buy is farm-raised or caught have won a six-month reprieve from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reports the Associated Press.
New regulations to implement a provision in the 2002 Farm Bill requiring fresh and frozen fish to carry labels specifying their origin were issued Oct. 7, but the government says grocery stores won't have to comply until April 2005.
The labels also will have to specify what country the seafood came from.
Food companies and trade groups had complained that processors would have to throw out stocks of fish if they could not sell them before the labeling requirement took effect. The wait, says USDA, will let the industry sell off its existing product.
Officials say they also plan to delay for a year strict enforcement of the new requirements while commercial fishermen, fish farmers, importers, distributors and retailers are trained on compliance.
Under the rule, supermarkets and larger retailers will be responsible for labeling, but smaller ?mom and pop? retailers will not have to comply, says A. J. Yates, administrator of the department?s Agricultural Marketing Service.
The rule also exempts processed fish (canned tuna and breaded fish sticks), items that have undergone a change (cooked or smoked fish) and foodservice establishments such as restaurants or salad bar and deli sections of supermarkets.
?Sheep producers are interested in the rules for mandatory labeling of fish since similar rulemaking will be in order by October 2006 for lamb,? said American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick.
The full text of the interim final rule can be found at:www.ams.usda.gov/COOL on the World Wide Web.