The 2014 Iowa Legislature hopes to wrap things up for the year on April 22 at the statehouse in Des Moines. That's the target date for the end of this session. Here's what happened of significance regarding agricultural legislation during the week ending April 11, as reported by Mindy Larsen Poldberg, government relations director for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Iowa Senate passes education appropriations bill
On Monday, April 7, the Iowa Senate passed the education appropriations bill (SF 2347) by a vote of 27-22. The Fiscal Year 2015 education budget bill provides a $520,000 increase in funding to the Iowa Agriculture Experiment Station at Iowa State University over the $28 million FY 2014 base funding. On Thursday, April 10, the House Appropriations committee passed the bill, but with an amendment to provide an additional $2 million to the Agriculture Experiment Station bringing total funding for the station to $2.5 million more than the FY 2014 level.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association, along with many other ag groups, support as much funding as possible for the Iowa Ag Experiment Station, and have specifically requested an additional $2.8 million increase above FY 2014 base funding. ICGA thanks the Iowa Senate and House Appropriations Committee for providing more funding than last year. "ICGA will continue to advocate for additional funds for long-term agricultural research as the bill progresses through the legislative process," says Poldberg. "ICGA also supports funding for ISU Extension and Outreach which is included in the education appropriations bill, at status quo funding for FY 2015."
Update on legislation regarding fuel tax differential
The Iowa Senate passed a bill to include a fuel tax differential this past week. The Senate passed the bill (HF 2444) on Monday, April 7, which relates to the Iowa Department of Revenue, but an amendment to the bill was unanimously supported to add the one-year extension of the fuel tax differential for all ethanol blends. The bill extends the Iowa ethanol fuel tax differential until July 2015.
The current law expires this summer, and so is in need of extension, says Poldberg. The law provides up to a 2-cent per gallon fuel tax benefit for any ethanol blended fuel, including E85, E15, E10 and anything in-between. The Iowa Corn Growers Association has supported this one-year extension of a fuel tax differential for several years now, as a fuel tax bill has not been passed.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C., lawmakers at the federal level also are working on legislation of interest to corn growers, notes Poldberg.
GMO labeling bill Introduced in U.S. Congress
On Wednesday, April 9, Representatives Pompeo (KS) and Butterfield (NC) introduced the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 4432). A new, single federal framework would be established in the bill for regulating the use and labeling of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology. The bill would preempt individual state-mandated GMO labeling laws and is supported by National Corn Growers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers, and many other agriculture and biotechnology groups. The legislation would seek to:
Advance Food Safety: The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits before they are introduced into commerce. The FDA would be empowered to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with GMO technology.
Inform Consumers: The FDA would establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their products for the absence or presence of GMO food ingredients so that consumers clearly understand their choices in the marketplace.
Provide Consistency: The FDA would define the term "natural" for its use on food and beverage products. Currently, there is no uniform definition of the term natural. This would provide food and beverage companies and consumers with a consistent legal framework that would guide food labels and inform consumer choice.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will likely hold a hearing on this bill over the summer. National Corn Growers Association policy supports the Food and Drug Administration's efforts to provide guidance for voluntary labeling that indicates whether foods have or have not been developed using bioengineering to identify attributes that are important to consumers in a manner that is truthful and not misleading. Visit the website for more information on this topic from the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food.
Senate ag committee hearing on renewable fuels
On Tuesday, April 8, the U.S. Senate Ag Committee held a hearing on advanced biofuels and their impact on rural economies. At the hearing, NASCAR team owner Richard Childress spoke about the higher fuel performance he has seen from E15 fuel.
"I think expanding and growing our use of biofuels is a key component to helping farmers make a living, while at the same time delivering environmental benefits that can be enjoyed by all Americans," Childress said. "The long-term certainty of the RFS has and continues to drive significant investment in the next generation of biofuels and new technologies both in ethanol production and in agriculture...By increasing yields, increasing efficiency, and deploying new technologies, ethanol and agriculture production continues to soften its footprint on the environment - particularly as fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas become harder and harder to extract."
Representatives from DuPont Industrial Biosciences and the Advanced Ethanol Council also spoke at the hearing about the importance of first-generation biofuels to support the development of the next generation of fuels.