LAWMAKERS ACT ON FOOD INDUSTRY ISSUES

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- For the supermarket industry, key bills are awaiting lawmakers' action as they rush to push legislation through Congress in advance of an August break and early adjournment for the year, scheduled Oct. 4. Here's a rundown of where some legislation affecting the food industry stands.Country of Origin Labeling: Retailers got some hope last week that legislation requiring them to

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- For the supermarket industry, key bills are awaiting lawmakers' action as they rush to push legislation through Congress in advance of an August break and early adjournment for the year, scheduled Oct. 4. Here's a rundown of where some legislation affecting the food industry stands.

Country of Origin Labeling: Retailers got some hope last week that legislation requiring them to label meat, fruit, vegetables and fish with their country of origin might be repealed. Labeling is now voluntary, but it becomes mandatory Oct. 1, 2004.

Last week, the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee, on a unanimous voice vote and a nod to supermarket complaints, nixed USDA funding to implement country of origin labeling for meat and meat products.

However, there are several hurdles to clear before repeal would become a reality. In the Senate, several GOP lawmakers from cattle states support country of origin labeling, making it difficult to muster enough repeal votes in a Republican-controlled chamber with a slim majority over Democrats.

This week, USDA will be holding hearings in St. Paul, Minn. (June 24), and Lancaster, Pa. (June 26). The department is poised to issue final regulations forcing companies to comply under a mandatory labeling scheme.

Estate Tax Repeal: The GOP-controlled House last week voted 264 to 163 to permanently repeal the estate tax, but the legislation's future remains clouded.

Repeal proponents, as they have for two years, continue to fall as many as four votes short of the 40 needed in the Senate to bring repeal to a vote. Hurting their cause is the ballooning federal deficit, to which estate tax repeal would contribute.

Retail Prescription Drug Benefit for Medicare Recipients: Progress has been made toward Congress expanding federal Medicare health benefits for seniors to include prescription drugs.

Last week, a Medicare drug benefit bill cleared the House Ways and Means Committee, and the week before, similar legislation passed the Senate Finance Committee. Both chambers are aiming for a final vote before their July 4 recess.