The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved the fiscal year 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill on a vote of 31-18, releasing a final product that totals $142.5 billion, including $20.9 billion in discretionary funding.
"This bill invests in the people of this country – in their safety, their livelihoods, and their communities – and ensures that our agricultural industries are successful, productive, and safe," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said in a released statement.
The committee spent several hours debating a few touchy pieces of the bill, one of them being a much-discussed provision to allow schools demonstrating an "economic hardship" to seek a temporary waiver from compliance with school lunch regulations during the 2014-15 school year.
Several food and nutrition groups opposed the provision, as did USDA Secretary Vilsack. Vilsack reaffirmed his position earlier this week during a conference call that coincided with a school nutrition meeting led by First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
During the call, Vilsack said the concern about a waiver is two-fold – one, the standards ensure improved access to healthier foods, and two, a waiver would require additional oversight.
"That's the concern – one of the concerns with the waiver – it's so difficult to determine if a school district is really financially struggling," Vilsack said. "And it's somewhat puzzling, because we're actually putting additional money into the program."
An amendment offered by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., to strike the waiver language was defeated 22-29.
A selection of other amendments to the FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill, however, were adopted by the full committee:
• An amendment from Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., to add $155 million for the Agricultural Research Service Building and Facilities account for the purchase, repair, improvement, or construction of equipment and facilities; adopted on voice vote.
• An amendment from Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., to prohibit funding for inspections of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S.; adopted on a vote of 28-22.
• An amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to prohibit funds to purchase processed poultry from China for use in school lunch programs; adopted on a voice vote.
• An amendment from Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., to add report language encouraging FDA to accept certain types of clear, visible calorie displays on products served through vending machines; adopted on a voice vote.
For full text of the bill, visit the House Appropriations Committee website.