After never getting around to it last year, the full House of Representatives is finally working on a farm bill and they seem to be trying to make up for lost time. Yesterday they set a very quick pace, plowing through dozens of amendments and working until close to midnight (so they can keep on schedule to adjourn Thursday afternoon and make it home to their districts for the weekend.)
The version of the bill sent to the House floor by the House Agriculture Committee is very flawed (you can read more about it here). It cuts food stamps by $20 billion, fails to restore funding for almost all the organic and sustainable agriculture programs that expired last year, and includes a provision that would effectively overturn state laws that set food and agriculture standards that are higher than federal rules.
The potential for improving the House farm bill on the floor rests on what amendments are considered. On Monday afternoon, members filed over 200 amendments covering a range of issues. Some of them would have made critical improvements to the bill on restoring organic programs like certification cost share, stopping retaliation against farmers who speak out about unfair treatment by meatpackers and poultry processors, and dealing with contamination caused by field trials of genetically engineered crops and the growing threat of weed resistance. But none of these good amendments survived the Rules Committee process, which determines which amendments actually get a vote on the House floor. Late Tuesday night, the Rules Committee cut the list of over 200 to about 90 that would actually get a vote.
That list of 90 is what the House started to tackle yesterday. There were more amendments we oppose than support. Some of the good amendments have already been voted down.
On nutrition assistance, an amendment by Rep. McGovern to restore the cuts to food stamps was defeated.
On international food aid, an amendment to reform the program to allow aid to be given in the form of cash instead of sending commodities was narrowly defeated.
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Several bad amendments intended to deregulate or obstruct agencies from regulating passed, including one by Rep. Benishek to require a study of pending produce safety rules being written by the Food and Drug Administration, another by Rep. Bachus that would subject the USDA to more regulatory review every time it makes a new rule, one by Rep. Crawford that would derail an EPA rule on preventing spills of fuel on farms, and an amendment by Rep. Wittman that would interfere with EPA’s efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
There were multiple amendments adopted that make it harder for people to qualify for food stamps, including adding drug testing requirements and work requirements.
There were a few bright spots, including adoption of amendments to require the USDA to prioritize pollinator health, reauthorize research into antibiotic resistance, provide farmers with a receipt for service at their local farm program office (a long running request by minority and socially disadvantaged farmers who have historically been shut out of many government farm programs), and evaluate and report on invasive species.
The full House will be back at it again today and will vote on more amendments that remain on the list, including a very controversial attempt to remove a dairy supply management program that is in the House bill.
There is still time to tell your Representative what to do on the remaining votes (including attacks on important local food programs such as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program). Take action now.
After the House finishes the farm bill, their version has to be reconciled with the Senate version in a conference committee. The committee will have to deal with significant differences between the bills on everything from food stamps to commodity programs to local food and organic.