Monday, January 27, 2014

New farm bill – finally

A committee of politicians from the House and Senate have agreed on a new five-year Farm Bill for the United States.

They are, however, facing a strong lobbying campaign from ranchers, hog producers and meat packers because the bill does not include a clause to scrap current regulations for Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL). Canadians and Mexicans also want COOL scrapped.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast said "Our government continues to stand with our industry, and we remain steadfast in taking whatever steps may be necessary, including retaliation, to achieve a fair resolution."

The bill features an $8-billion cut in food stamp subsidies and increased crop insurance to replace direct crop subsidies which went mainly to cotton, corn and rice.

The Republicans in the House sought a $39-billion cut in food stamps back in September. This cut is one per cent from the current level of food-stamp funding.

At $500 billion, this Farm Bill is $24 billion lower than it would have cost to continue extending the current Farm Bill which was supposed to end more than a year ago, but was extended when politicians failed to negotiate a compromise.

This committee agreement still needs approval from the full House and the Senate; that should be done by the end of next week. Then it will go to President Obama who is likely to sign it. If he doesn’t, it will need a two-thirds majority of politicians to over-ride Obama.

"We are so close to having a new bill that we need to concentrate on getting it done," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat who is a member of the farm bill conference committee. "This is basically a sound, balanced, bipartisan bill."

Nonetheless the vehemence of the anger expressed by major beef, pork, and poultry lobbies left the House Republican leadership edgy, reported Politico, an on-line news outlet.

 “There’s a lot of froth,” said one aide, and much of that anger was aimed at Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan.

“We’re opposed to the bill and Debbie Stabenow is to blame. She’s the one who said no,” said Colin Woodall, a vice president for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

When a reporter suggested the cattlemen would be “breaking [Lucas’] heart” if it took down the farm bill, Woodall didn’t back away. “We’re going to work it hard,” he said.

The NCBF, the American Meat Institute and several poultry and pork lobbies sent a letter to politicians warning they will “actively oppose” final passage if their issues are not addressed.