Friday, July 20, 2007

COOL Passes With Farm Bill

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed its 2007 farm bill Thursday, sending the $285 billion legislation to the full House for a vote that could take place next week.

There was a victory in the bill for lawmakers who have been pushing for mandatory country-of-origin labeling on food products. The committee approved language that will finally allow full implementation of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for meat in the farm bill. The provision includes three categories of labeling, one that indicates a meat product was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States; one that indicates that product was not exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; and one that includes products entirely from other countries. For ground meat, products can be labeled with a list of countries where the product may have originated.

Ag committee chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., issued a statement touting the bill's "investments in conservation, nutrition and renewable energy while maintaining a strong safety net for America's farmers and ranchers."
"We have incorporated some new ideas and important reforms in this Farm Bill," Peterson said, "focusing farm program benefits so they get to real farmers and boosting investment in programs that help those who haven't received benefits through the farm bill before."

As reported on Wednesday on Iowa Independent, some reforms were made in the contentious area of commodity payments, although the changes fall far short of the hopes of many Midwestern lawmakers.

But some progressive organizations are now moving to support the bill, such as the National Farmers Union. "Last night Chairman Peterson did what many believed impossible just a few weeks ago," NFU President Tom Buis said. "The decreased budget baseline created many obstacles but Peterson and the other members of the committee made lemonade out of lemons. Their hard work and long hours have paid off and I believe this bill will have broad support across the countryside. This is a good bill, with a good safety net and good reform," Buis said.

The bill bans a farm operator from receiving payments if gross adjusted income is more than $1 million per year, reducing that threshold from the current level of $2.5 million. And one of the major loopholes in the current farm program, the so-called "Three Entity Rule" was eliminated, a loophole that currently allows operators of large farms to effectively double their commodity payments. The bill also gives farmers participating in commodity programs with a choice between traditional price protection and new market-oriented revenue coverage payments.

Rep. Leonard Boswell, who represents Iowa's Third District and serves as the chairman of agriculture subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, commended chairman Peterson for his work on finding common ground and achieving compromises on the bill. Boswell offered three amendments to the bill, which all passed. One of Boswell's amendments creates a "methamphetamine inhibitor grant program," which would help agricultural retailers selling anhydrous ammonia to purchase a chemical additive that renders the ammonia less useful to meth cooks.

Some other highlights of the Farm Bill include $1.6 billion in new funding aimed at supporting the fruit and vegetable industry in the United States. A new section for Horticulture and Organic Agriculture includes nutrition, research, pest management and trade promotion programs.

The bill adjusts loan rates and target prices among commodities, in an effort to achieve greater regional equity, and cuts federal payment rates to crop insurance companies that are currently making record profits due to higher crop prices.

Conservation has been a key area of expansion in the farm bill, and the bill extends and makes new investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and many others.

The USDA Snack Program will be expanded as a part of the bill. This is a program that helps schools provide healthy snacks to students during after-school activities. The program will move to all 50 states.

Another key provision in the bill will provide investment in rural economic development efforts and expand access to broadband telecommunication services in rural areas.

While the bill passed the ag committee on a unanimous vote, it is rumored that there may be resistance when it goes to the full House for a vote, as reported here earlier this week. But chairman Peterson stated Friday to reporters that he has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move the committee bill forward through the full House of Representatives.

1 comment:

Francis Bell said...

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