CHN: Agriculture Appropriations Bill on Hold in the House, on Tap in the Senate

The House began floor debate on its Agriculture appropriations bill (H.R. 4800) on Wednesday, June 11, but work on the legislation was suspended before members got to one of the most controversial sections. Passed by the House Appropriations Committee on May 29, the bill would require the USDA to let some schools waive out of nutrition requirements set in 2010, and it would also incorporate white potatoes as an acceptable part of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition package. Both of these provisions would see Congress overriding recommendations from scientists, nutritionists, and health experts, a possibility that has concerned and angered advocates.
The day before the House took up the bill, the White House threatened to veto it, saying it “injects political decision-making into science-based nutrition standards, and includes objectionable language riders.” The statement specifically says the Administration strongly opposes the school waivers and the inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC package. WIC helps families obtain certain foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, that nutrition experts have found they most need as supplements to their regular diet.  White potatoes are already a part of most low-income families’ diets. First Lady Michelle Obama also argued against the provisions in an op-ed published in The New York Times in late May.

Debate and a final vote on the legislation was originally expected to take place this week, but the most recent reports from CQ now say the bill won’t be taken up again until later this summer, giving Republicans more time to shore up support for the controversial provisions. When the measure does resurface, Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, is expected to offer an amendment to strip the school nutrition waiver provision. Democrats are also expected to offer an amendment to get rid of white potatoes in the WIC package.

The Senate is also expected to take up its Agriculture appropriations bill this week as part of a package of three spending bills, along with the Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bills. The Senate version of the agriculture spending bill does not provide waivers for schools or delay any other nutritional requirements set to go into effect this fall, though a Republican amendment to add the waivers may be offered. The bill does allow for the inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC food package, but it also allows the USDA to cut potatoes from the package in the future if a mandatory study deems they shouldn’t be included.

For more information on the Agriculture appropriations bill, see the May 27 Human Needs Report. Read a related post and leave your comments about the nutrition controversy on CHN’s new blog, Voices for Human Needs.

Budget and Appropriations
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