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Senate adopts prohibition on alcohol export subsidy

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States will no longer subsidize the export of alcoholic beverages if a measure the Senate has adopted becomes law.
At the urging of Sen. Strom Thurmond, R.-S.C., the Senate accepted by voice vote an amendment prohibiting the Foreign Agricultural Service from promoting the sale or export of alcohol. The measure was added to the agriculture appropriations bill, which also passed the Senate.
The fate of the amendment rests with a conference committee consisting of members of both the Senate and House of Representatives who will work out differences between the two versions of the spending bill. The alcohol subsidy ban is not in the House version, which was approved in June.
It is “going to be a fight,” said John DeCrosta, Thurmond’s press secretary, but it is a “fight I think we have a good chance of winning.”
If it becomes law, the measure will be added to a ban already in existence on tobacco.
While the ban would impact all alcoholic beverages, its greatest impact would be on the wine industry, which has received subsidies totaling more than $90 million during the last 13 years, according to Thurmond’s office. The most recent annual subsidy was for $3.6 million, with $3.19 million going to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.
Subsidies also have gone for beer and distilled spirits in the past, DeCrosta said.
Wine industry exports have increased by more than 400 percent in just over a decade, and the industry no longer needs to be subsidized through the Foreign Agricultural Service’s market access program, Thurmond said.
“Continuing to give these export support subsidies is bad public policy for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the wine industry has more than sufficient financial means to finance their own products,” Thurmond said, according to a written release. “It is puzzling as to why an industry that last year exported $537 million — half a billion dollars — would continue to require the assistance of the American taxpayer to reach foreign markets.”
His amendment, which was adopted Aug. 4, is not an assault against the wine industry nor an effort to coerce people to stop drinking alcoholic beverages, Thurmond said.