Farm Bill Victories

After more than two years of congressional debate, the Farm Bill is moving forward. Last week, the conference committee issued a report that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House voted to approve the conference committee version of the Farm Bill, 251-166, and the Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

We’ll start with the bad news: the bulk of the Farm Bill continues the same programs that favor large-scale, chemical-intensive, mono-cropping and commodity agriculture.

But there is also some good news — we had wins or partial wins on all of the specific issues on which FARFA focused and called for our members to take action. See the various sections below for more information.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to call or write Congress! We were up against powerful lobbies on all of these issues, but the voices of people like you and coalitions of grassroots organizations carried the day.

We need to continue building our strength to tackle the many issues our agricultural and food system face. But for now, take a moment to reflect on these victories — they are thanks to you!

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

Despite a well-funded and well-organized fight by multinational meatpackers and their allies, the Farm Bill does not weaken or eliminate COOL. The bill does call for the Agriculture Secretary to conduct an economic analysis of the final rule, something that we welcome. And it even expands COOL a little by adding venison to the list of meats that must be labeled with where it was born, raised, and processed.

Fair Competition

Again, despite the best efforts of powerful meatpacking companies and industrial ag groups, the Farm Bill does not limit the USDA’s ability to write rules to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act through GIPSA. These rules are important to protect small poultry farmers from abusive and unfair trade practices by the meatpacking companies who effectively control the market.

Food Safety Rules

A weakened version of the Benishek Amendment is included in the Farm Bill. This version requires the FDA, when it publishes a final produce safety rule, to also publish:

  1. An analysis of the scientific information used to develop the final rule, “taking into consideration any information about farming and ranching operations of a variety of sizes, with regional differences, and that have a diversity of production practices and methods.”
  2. An analysis of the economic impact of the final rule.
  3. A plan to systematically evaluate the impact of the final rule on farming and ranching operations. The agency must develop an ongoing process to evaluate and respond to business concerns.

The Farm Bill also calls on the Comptroller to report on an annual basis to the House and Senate Ag Committees about how the evaluation and response process is going.

While this is not as strong as the original Benishek amendment (which forbid FDA from enforcing any FSMA rule without a scientific and cost analysis), it is still a positive step that sends a signal to the agency that Congress will continue to be involved, and not just leave food safety regulations in the bureaucrats’ hands.

States’ Rights

The final bill does not include the controversial King Amendment, which would have banned state governments from adopting laws that put conditions on how agriculture and livestock imported from other states was produced or raised. Click here to read the joint letter to Congress regarding the King Amendment.