Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
By Patty Lovera
It’s time for another installment in the saga of the never-ending Farm Bill debate. In previous episodes, Congress passed a terrible bill to extend portions of the last Farm Bill as they tried to escape the “fiscal cliff” on New Year’s Day. That kept some parts of farm policy alive until the end of September, 2013, but abandoned important programs for organic and sustainable agriculture, conservation and beginning farmers.
And now, Congress is once again working to try to pass something before the short-term Farm Bill expires. Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees say they will develop their versions of the bill this month (Exactly which day or week isn’t quite clear). The committees say they will “mark up” the bills quickly and get them out of committee so the full House and Senate can vote on them this summer.
At this stage of the game, we don’t know exactly what will be in the bills the committees work on. But we can make some predictions on what will need improving.
On competition, we will be urging the committees to include a ban on packer ownership of livestock, creation of a special counsel at USDA to deal with competition in agriculture markets, and to not include any measures that limit USDA’s ability to enforce rules on contracts for poultry growers that were in the 2008 Farm Bill.
There will once again be battles over the food safety net for low-income families, especially in the House, where there will likely be multiple attempts to make big cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), the main federal nutrition program (background info on SNAP).
Organic and sustainable agriculture were victims of last year’s political gridlock, which allowed some important programs to expire and be abandoned by the last Farm Bill extension. This version of the bill should restore these programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and conservation. Specifically on organic agriculture, the bill should restore funding for the organic certification cost-share program (which helps operations that are new to organic pay for initial certification costs), and organic data collection and research programs at USDA.
Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) is offering an important addition to the Farm Bill that would require USDA to develop and implement a mechanism for employees of the Food Safety and Inspection Service to coordinate the reporting, evaluation, and abatement of potential occupational safety hazards. This is a critical improvement, given the recent news about health threats to workers and USDA inspectors in poultry plants due to the chemicals used to disinfect chickens. This problem will only get worse if the USDA is allowed to go forward with its proposal to deregulate poultry inspection and speed up the lines in poultry slaughterhouses, with likely increases in chemical use to pick up the slack.
Let your members of Congress know that you expect them to do a better job this time around on the Farm Bill. You can take action here: http://fwwat.ch/FBMay