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Published June 02, 2014, 09:45 AM

House Committee supports white potatoes for WIC

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee recently rejected a proposal to restrict benefits under the sugar program as part of a much larger bill to fund the government that was dominated by school meal issues.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee recently rejected a proposal to restrict benefits under the sugar program as part of a much larger bill to fund the government that was dominated by school meal issues.

The committee also supported a provision to end the ban on white potatoes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

The committee passed the bill by a vote of 31-18.

But House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif., said it would face a series of problems as it moves to the House floor because it contains a provision requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grant waivers from school meal nutrition requirements to any schools that have lost money in the program for six months. Republicans favored the waivers while Democrats did not.

Reps. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Jim Moran, D-Va., offered an amendment to restrict USDA nonrecourse loans for sugar cane or sugar beet processors to operations under $300,000.

Dent, whose district includes the Hershey candy company, said sugar had been the only program in the farm bill that was not reformed.

But several committee members, including Reps. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, all spoke in opposition to the amendment, noting the issue had been considered in the farm bill passed earlier this year.

Kaptur said sugar producers in her region have to compete with imported sugar from countries that use “sweat labor” and where the workers do not own the line.

Sugar growing, she said, “is part of the fundamental spine” of many states.

The vote on the sugar amendment was 18 in favor and 32 against.

“This was just another attempt by sugar opponents and the big candy companies they represent to harm U.S. sugar farmers, and the committee should be commended for overwhelmingly rejecting this scheme,” said Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance. “It’s hard to imagine any agricultural issue that has been voted on as many times as sugar policy in recent years, yet the votes continually show strong support for domestic producers.”

The bill contains a provision to stop USDA from enforcing certain provisions of the Packers and Stockyards Act related to poultry. Kaptur offered two amendments to change the provisions, but both were defeated.

Other amendments

The committee approved an amendment offered by Moran to ban USDA inspection of horse meat for human consumption.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to ban the purchase of chicken processed in China from the school lunch program. The federal school lunch program has “buy America” provisions, but this would affect local school purchasing, DeLauro said.

DeLauro introduced an amendment to take out the subcommittee potato provision, but it was voted down by voice vote.

The committee also passed an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Nunelee, R-Miss., that would relieve vending machine operators from putting calorie counts for their products on the outside of machines, as would be required under the menu labeling requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

DeLauro spoke bitterly against the amendment, saying the requirement would allow people a chance to see the number of calories in a candy bar or other food item before purchasing, but the amendment passed on a voice vote.

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