Legislative Roundup: New bills introduced on Capitol Hill

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Agriculture is a hot topic on Capitol Hill. Several bills have been introduced over the past month. Some are friendly to agriculture, while others are not. Take a brief look at some of the ones with growing support.

Death Tax: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) introduced legislation (H.R.1586) on March 20th to fully and permanently repeal the estate tax. The bill currently has 68 co-sponsors.

Superfund Bills Update: S. 807 and H.R. 1398 were introduced March 8 by Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) in the Senate, and Representatives Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Ralph Hall (R-Texas) in the House. These bills will provide that manure shall not be considered a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant under Superfund laws.

There are 95 co-sponsors in the House, with 10 new cosponsors signing on late last week. They are Reps. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Geoff Davis (R-Ken.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Michael Simpson (R-Idaho), and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.). The senate bill has 18 co-sponsors.

House Votes to Eliminate Horse & Burro Sale Authority: The House voted 277-137 on April 25 to approve H.R. 249, a bill to eliminate sale authority for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council (PLC) opposed H.R. 249 and point to the fact that the BLM has used its authority to sell 346 horses and burros this year alone, saving the agency well over $1 million over the life of the horse. NCBA and PLC also point out that these sales occur with restrictions in place barring the sale of the horses to processing facilities. "Congressional elimination of the sale authority would only hurt the agency's ability to manage horse populations on public lands and would add nothing to animal welfare," says NCBA's Director of Federal Lands Jeff Eisenberg. 

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

Senate Committee Approves Ban on Horse Processing: In a related development, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved S. 311, the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. This legislation aims to institute a federal ban on horse processing, specifically prohibiting the "shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of any horse or other equine to be slaughtered for human consumption."

Over 190 state and national organizations oppose this action due to the precedent it could set for banning the consumption of other meats for reasons other than science, safety, or public health. In addition, removing processing as a management option for horses actually poses a greater risk to horse welfare. As many as 90,000 horses annually will need care, food and shelter. S. 311, and legislation in the House, H.R. 503, both fail to address the problems of costs for care and the unintended mistreatment of these animals in non-regulated rescue facilities.

Interstate Shipment Legislation: Senators Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation last week, S. 1150, the New Markets for State-Inspected Meat and Poultry Act of 2007, that would allow for smaller, state-inspected processing plants to ship beef across state lines just like federally-inspected plants. 

"State inspection programs are proven to be as thorough as Federal programs, yet state-inspected meat can't be shipped even from Utah to Colorado," Hatch said. "We need to update this unnecessary, unjust ban that puts our small businesses at such a disadvantage."

Federal law requires the USDA to inspect all meat products, and in the late 1960s Congress created state inspection programs that are mandated to be "at least equal to" the Federal inspection program. Perishable products -- including milk and other dairy items, fruit, vegetables, and fish -- are freely shipped across state lines after state inspection. But standard meat products, like poultry, beef, and pork, are prohibited from interstate commerce, despite decades of meeting or surpassing the Federal inspection standards. This bill would remove this prohibition.

Also last week, Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) introduced similar legislation, S. 1149, in the Senate. "Removing the current prohibition will help level the playing field for small businesses and spur additional competition in the market place," said Kohl. "It will help main street businesses -- who often specialize in local, organic, grass-fed or artisanal products -- meet emerging markets. And it will help livestock producers who want more options for marketing their livestock."

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