Senate passed farm bill, it cuts some farm subsidies and land conservation spending. But a significant part of spending goes to food stamp beneficiaries.
Senate passes five-year farm bill cutting subsidies for some
Published June 21, 2012 / Associated Press
The Senate on Thursday completed a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill that cuts farm subsidies and land conservation spending by about $2 billion a year but largely protects sugar growers and some 46 million food stamp beneficiaries.
The 64-35 vote for passage defied political odds. Many inside and outside of Congress had predicted that legislation so expensive and so complicated would have little chance of advancing in an election year.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it "one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times in terms of how you pass a bill."
The bipartisanship seen in the Senate may be less evident in the House, where conservatives are certain to resist the bill's costs, particularly for food stamps. Food stamp spending has doubled in the past five years, and beneficiaries have grown from by about 20 million to 46 million. The program's budget is now about $80 billion a year, comprising 80 percent of the spending in the farm bill.
Farm bills traditionally have been bipartisan efforts, and leaders of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee leaders made a point of showing how their bill would bring down the deficit.
While overall spending on programs covered by the bill has climbed because more people are receiving food stamps, the committee head, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the top Republican, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, said the bill would save $23 billion over the next 10 years compared with spending under the current farm bill.
That comes from replacing four farm commodity subsidy programs with one, consolidating 23 conservation programs into 13, and ending several sources of abuse in food stamps. That program is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
The biggest change comes from eliminating direct payments to farmers whether they plant crops or not. The program, which costs about $5 billion a year, has lost much of its support at a time of $1 trillion federal deficits and when farmers in general are prospering.
That subsidy, and a separate one where the government sets target prices and pays farmers when prices go below that level, will be replaced. There will be greater reliance on crop insurance and a new program that covers smaller losses on planted crops before crop insurance kicks in.
The bill also prevents farm "managers," often wealthy people who may not live or work on a farm, from receiving subsidy payments and gives greater help to fruit and vegetable producers and healthy food programs.
The Senate rejected several Republican amendments that would have reduced food stamp spending by such means as tightening up eligibility requirements.
The bill saves about $4 billion over 10 years, a small amount compared with the projected $770 billion in spending for food stamps over 10 years. It stops lottery winners and more affluent college students from receiving benefits and cracks down on benefit trafficking.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack praised the Senate bill for making progress toward "providing a reformed safety net for producers in times of needs," supporting agriculture research, conserving natural resources, strengthening local food systems and promoting jobs. He expressed hope the House "will produce a bill with those same goals in mind."
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said that while there will be differences between the House and Senate approaches, "I hope my colleagues are encouraged by this success." His committee is scheduled to meet on July 11 to vote on a House version of the bill.
The House must deal with a North-South divide on the bill that the Senate chose to leave for future negotiations.
The switch from direct payments to the revenue loss subsidy was welcomed by Northern and Midwestern corn and soybean farmers but strongly opposed by Southern rice and peanut growers. They traditionally have relied more on direct payments and targeted prices and want to keep parts of those subsidies. The House is expected to be more sympathetic to the Southerners.
While transforming the subsidy system, the Senate left intact the sugar program that for some 80 years has protected beet and sugarcane growers and sugar refiners by controlling prices and limiting imports.
The program is opposed by consumer groups and food and beverage companies that use sugar. They say it drives up costs and leads to confectioners relocating overseas. Amendments to either phase out or narrow the scope of the sugar program both failed on close votes.
In all, the Senate considered more than 70 amendments over three days. Among the more significant, the Senate approved, over the objections of Stabenow and Roberts, a measure that would reduce by 15 percentage points the share of crop insurance premiums the government pays for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.
Sponsors of the amendments, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said that would affect only 1,500 of 1.5 million farmers and save $1 billion over the next decade. Stabenow and Roberts argued that it would result in fewer people buying insurance and more relying on ad hoc disaster relief.
Currently the government bears an average 62 percent of crop insurance premiums, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the crop insurance costs will be nearly $10 billion a year over the next 10 years.
The Senate on Thursday also narrowly rejected an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., that would have barred the Environmental Protection Agency from all aerial surveillance of agriculture operations.
IMPORTANT ACTION ALERT
Protect family farms and ranches from new burdensome Animal ID regulation
The USDA is about to finalize a rule that will cause significant problems for independent ranchers, small farmers, and even backyard poultry owners. Please help protect our farms by telling your Representative to put a stop to this!
The USDA is on track to issue a final rule on Animal ID this summer and has not indicated that any major changes have been made from the version it proposed last year. That rule as proposed by USDA would subject cattle and poultry owners across the country to new tagging and paperwork requirements that could collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the agency has designated the final rule as “not economically significant.”
The bottom line is that this animal ID rule is a solution in search of a problem. The USDA has failed to identify the specific problem or disease of concern. Instead, the real focus of the program is helping the export market for the benefit of a handful of large corporations.
The agency has also failed to account for the true cost to private individuals, businesses, and state and federal agencies, creating an unfunded mandate. The new rule will harm rural businesses while wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on the real problems we face in controlling animal disease, food security, and food safety.
Please help protect our farms and our right to own animals by contacting your Representative today!
Call your U.S. Representative and ask him or her to work to stop funding for the Animal ID rule until and unless the agency addresses the full costs of the proposal.
If you don’t know who represents you, you can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or find out online at www.house.gov
Hi, my name is ____ and I am a constituent from (state). I urge Congressman ____ to work to eliminate funding for the USDA’s Animal Traceability rule. The agency has told the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the rule is not “economically significant,” but that is simply not true. The rule as proposed by USDA would impose significant costs on independent ranchers, family farmers, backyard poultry owners and livestock businesses.
In a time of economic hardship, it makes no sense to spend our tax dollars on this program when USDA hasn’t even properly evaluated the costs or identified specific, concrete benefits. Please work to stop the funding for this unnecessary and burdensome program.
Although we don’t know for certain what is in the final rule that USDA has sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final approval, we do know several things:
1) The proposed rule had many problems (discussed more below).
2) The USDA has not announced that it has made any major changes to the proposed rule. In fact, in informal statements, the USDA has indicated that the costly provisions for tagging feeder cattle are part of the final rule.
3) The USDA has told OMB that the rule is “not economically significant,” putting it on the fast track for final approval without any serious evaluation of the true costs that it will impose.
FACTS ABOUT THE PROPOSED RULE
We have repeatedly asked USDA for data showing where the problems are in tracking animals currently. Rather than provide that data, USDA hand-picked a few anecdotes, out of the millions of animals in this country. But the agency’s unsupported claims do not justify imposing broad new tracking requirements. Small farms are not the source of most disease problems in this country, yet the proposed rule will burden them unfairly.
POULTRY: Small-scale, pastured, and backyard poultry would be particularly hard hit by the rule as proposed. While the large confinement operations will be able to use “group identification,” the definition of the term does not cover most independent operations. Since thousands of people order baby chicks from hatcheries in other states, these birds cross state lines the first day of their lives. Even if the farmer or backyard owner never takes the bird across state lines again, they will have to use individually sealed and numbered leg bands on each chicken, turkey, goose, or duck to comply with the language of the proposed rule.
Even if the definition of “group identification” were changed to cover small operations, the result would be new paperwork requirements on almost every person who owns chickens, turkeys, or other poultry. The agency has entirely failed to justify imposing these burdens on poultry owners.
CATTLE: Along with new identification requirements imposed on all breeding-age cattle, the proposed rule would require identification and paperwork on calves and young cattle (“feeder cattle”), even though there’s no evidence that such requirements will help disease control. In addition, veterinarians and sale barns will have to keep records for 5 years, even though many of these cattle will have been consumed years earlier, creating mountains of useless paperwork.
Producers will only be able to use brands or tattoos as identification if their States enter into special agreements. State agencies will have to build extensive database systems to handle all of the data, creating problems for States’ budgets.
HORSES: The proposed rule also requires that horse owners identify their animals before crossing state lines. Although most, if not all, horses that are shipped across state lines are already identified in some fashion, the proposed rule creates a new complication: Whether or not a physical description is sufficient identification will be determined by the health officials in the receiving state, leaving vets and horse owners struggling with significant uncertainty as they have to anticipate what will be allowed.
SHEEP, GOATS, and HOG: The proposed rule also covered sheep, goats, and hogs that cross state lines, essentially federalizing the existing programs which have been adopted state-by-state until now.
You can read the proposed rule at www.aphis.usda.gov/ traceability/downloads/2011/ Proposed%20Rule.pdf
FOR MORE INFORMATION, go to www.farmandranchfreedom.org/ Animal-ID-2011
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Raw milk from a Central California dairy is being recalled after tests confirmed bacteria called campylobacter (kamp -peh-low-back-ter) was found in its raw cream.
State health officials say at least 10 people have fallen ill after consuming products from Organic Pastures in Fresno County between January and April. None were hospitalized.
California State Veterinarian Annette Whiteford issued a quarantine order for the dairy's products Thursday. The state also issued a statewide recall of its raw milk, raw skim milk, raw cream and raw butter. Consumers are urged to dispose of any of the dairy's products they may have.
The dairy's owner, Mark McAfee, says he believes the test results are incorrect. He has requested a hearing with the California Department of Food and Agriculture Friday.
It's the second recall in six months for the company, which was forced to recall milk contaminated with E.coli in December.