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May 24th, 2013

Farm Bill Update: “Possible Votes Later”

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch’s Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

We started the week with a lot of hype about how the full Senate was going to finish the farm bill. Didn’t happen. Last week the Senate Ag committee did rush through the process of drafting their version of the bill, finishing in a little under three hours. But when the bill hit the Senate floor this week, the accelerated pace came to a screeching halt. For those of us who spent a lot of our week glued to CSPAN, one screen caption pretty much said it all: “possible votes later.”

There were lots of speeches, some debate, and some very long breaks in the action, but not a lot of voting on the farm bill. After three days with the bill on the floor, the Senate finished a grand total of 12 amendments — out of almost 200 amendments filed.

There were competing attempts to restore funding for the SNAP nutrition assistance program (formerly known as food stamps) and to cut the program – all of them were defeated. The current draft of the bill in the Senate would cut food stamps by $4 billion. One controversial amendment that was adopted by unanimous consent (so there is no recorded vote) forbids convicted felons from SNAP eligibility for life.

Beyond the SNAP program, there were several extended debates over crop insurance and the government program for sugar. Amendments that were adopted included one to allow tribal governments to participate in conservation programs for agriculture, one on eligibility for irrigation assistance. 

Perhaps the most interesting vote of the week was on an amendment from Senator Sanders (D-VT) to allow states to pass laws that require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food. The amendment failed, by a vote by 27-71. There were some notable supporters of the amendment, many of whom represent states with active grassroots campaigns to pass state laws on GE labeling, including both senators from Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, as well as Senator Bennett from Colorado, Senator Tester from Montana, Senator Reid from Nevada, Senator Heinrich from New Mexico and Senator Schumer from New York. You can find out how your Senators voted here:

The Senate plans to take up the farm bill again on June 3(after they are back from their Memorial Day recess. There are still many important amendments left on their list. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Amendments Food & Water Watch supports:
    • S. Amend. 969: Senators Grassley and Brown’s amendment would create a USDA special counsel to monitor consolidation in agriculture and strengthen and coordinate competition and antitrust enforcement. 
    • S. Amend. 993: Senators Rockefeller and Tester’s amendment would prohibit companies from retaliating against farmers who speak out about unfair treatment. 
    • S. Amend. 971: Senator Tester’s amendment would require the USDA to issue annual reports on concentration in the food and agribusiness sectors.
    • S. Amend. 981 and 982: Senator Enzi’s amendments would ensure that livestock delivery prices are transparent, fixed and competitive, benefiting farmers and consumers.
    • S. Amend. 978: Senators Tester and Merkley’s amendment would repeal the so-called Monsanto Protection Act, a provision in the 2013 continuing resolution that removed judicial oversight of genetically engineered crops. 
    • S. Amend. 1025 and 1026: Senators Boxer and Murkowski’s amendment would support a Sense of the Senate resolution that the U.S. should require the labeling of GE foods. S. Amend 1026 would require the FDA and the USDA to issue a report on how other countries label foods with genetically engineered ingredients.
    • S. Amend. 934: Senator Begich’s amendment would ban the sale of genetically engineered salmon.
    • S. Amend. 972: Senator Tester’s amendment would reinvigorate classical plant and animal breeding to develop regionally appropriate breeds and varieties held in the public domain. 
    • S. Amend. 940: Senator Gillibrand’s amendment would support research on how antimicrobial drug use in agriculture impacts the growing public health problem of antimicrobial drug-resistant bacteria.
    • S. Amend. 941: Senator Gillibrand’s amendment would require the appointment of a Public Health Examiner for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to hasten the implementation of food safety recommendations.  
    • S. Amend. 1027: Senator Boxer’s amendment would require the USDA, the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the long-term viability of honeybees and other pollinators. 
    • S. Amend. 1093: Senators Leahy and Collins’ amendment would eliminate the disparity between organic and conventional producers’ access to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. 
    • S. Amend. 1083: Senator Cruz’ amendment would end farmer-funded promotion and research efforts called “checkoff” programs. Many small and mid-sized farmers oppose these checkoffs due to problems in oversight and because money is spent on programs that do not benefit them. This amendment would effectively prevent the creation of an organic checkoff program, which is widely opposed by organic farmers who do not want to have to pay for a fund that will likely be controlled by large food processors and retailers.
  •  Amendments Food & Water Watch opposes:
    • There are multiple amendments that would weaken the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, reduce the number of lower-income people eligible for SNAP or reduce the funding for the SNAP program, including but not limited to S. Amend. 946 (Sessions), S. Amend. 947 (Sessions), S. Amend. 949 (Roberts) S. Amend. 950 (Roberts), S. Amend. 960 (Inhofe, Graham) and S. Amend 1056 (Vitter).
    • S. Amend. 956: Senators McCain and Shaheen’s amendment repeals a provision from the 2008 Farm Bill that created a USDA program to strengthen the inspection of domestic and imported catfish.
    • S. Amends. 970 and 1011: Senators Grassley and Donnelly’s amendment would significantly reduce the disclosure of publicly available data and information on industrial livestock facilities, significantly impacting neighboring communities and the public interest.

And then there’s the House. The full House may work on the farm bill in mid June. Last time around, the full House never voted on the bill. If they do manage to vote on it this time around, it will be after much debate over money, especially the SNAP program. Read our post from last week about differences between the current versions in the House and Senate. And take action to tell your Senators what to do when they get back in June and go back to the Farm Bill:

2 Comments on Farm Bill Update: “Possible Votes Later”

  1. Sandi Walters says:

    I am so very surprised that we don’t have people who are really geting ill from our already deficiant inspections anyway. This is the kind of thing that is not studied much and it has really crept up on us…..Why would anyone not want our food to be the best for our growing children? I just do not get it…… is all that comes to mind. That is just plain inhumane.

  2. Brad Wilson says:

    I was hoping you would address the sugar amendment, which seems to be very confusing to food & farm reform advocates. They tried to eliminate price floors (similar to CED goals in Foodopoly, chapter 1). Your report from a while back, The Farm Bill: Food Policy in an Era of Corporate Power, supports Price Floors, which eliminate theneed for subsidies (as IATP puts it). IATP also has a good report on sugar policy, Sweet or Sour. I follow food leaders who have tweeted a lot about the victory to put payment limits on crop insurance premium subsidies, but they have been silent (nothing at all I’ve seen so far) on the defeat of the amendment to make cheap sugar (which is not as cheap as HFCS, because of Price Floors,) cheaper.

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