Farm Bill in Progress: What Little Difference a Year Makes
By Patty Lovera
Last night, the Senate passed their version of the farm bill… again. Just like they did a little less than a year ago. But last year, the House didn’t vote on the bill. So this summer, they’re trying again.
A quick recap on how we got to this point: the last farm bill to use a “normal” process was passed in 2008. Several attempts to pass a new farm bill in 2012 were unsuccessful and the farm bill that is currently in effect is a short-term extension that expires in September 2013. The extension bill kept major programs (like payments for commodity crops) alive, but abandoned important programs for organic and sustainable agriculture, conservation and beginning farmers.
The bill passed last night by the Senate is disappointing. In our statement to the press, we described it as doing “little to address the stranglehold that food processing firms have over America’s unsustainable and unfair food system.” Because of disputes over whose amendments would be considered, more than 200 proposed amendments were not considered at all. Some of the amendments that did not get a vote would have dramatically improved the bill, such as those by Senators Grassley, Tester, Enzi and Rockefeller that would have injected some sensible measures to address the rising consolidation in the food industry, an amendment by Senator Tester to prioritize research funding for non-genetically engineered seeds and breeds, and Senator Boxer’s amendment to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
On the slightly brighter side, the failure to consider lots of amendments meant that some bad changes were averted, including a measure to remove catfish inspection from the USDA, measures to delay implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and even deeper cuts to food assistance programs (the bill that passed the Senate does cut $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years, but some amendments offered would have cut even more). One of the few amendments that did get added to the bill – by unanimous consent – would retroactively disqualify anyone who had ever been convicted of some felonies—or their children—from receiving food stamps.
You can read more about what is in the Senate bill here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/farm-bill-2013-the-bill-goes-to-the-senate-floor-again/
The next step for the farm bill is the House floor. Predicted by some observers to be a “bloody free for all,” the House spectacle will feature big debates over cuts to SNAP (the current draft would cut $20 billion in comparison to the $4 billion cut in the Senate bill). The House bill also has less dramatic changes to government commodity programs, with lower target prices paid to farmers for commodity crops and less reliance on crop insurance than the Senate bill. There is also going to be a big fight about dairy programs in the House. The Speaker of the House, Rep. Boehner, is on a well-known crusade to end any government programs for dairy supply management, putting him on a collision course with the Agriculture Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Collin Peterson, who is championing a complex modification to current policy that would pay dairy farmers when the gap between the price of their milk and the cost of animal feed hits a specified mark. Sadly, for all the debate that is likely to occur over the role of government in dairy pricing, the discussion will probably not address the real source of the problem for dairy farmers – too few buyers and milk pricing formulas that don’t include what the milk costs to produce.
The House may take up the farm bill next week. Stay tuned for news on what amendments are introduced and ways to get involved.