WASHINGTON – The House agriculture committee unanimously passed a new farm bill July 19 that expands benefits to nearly all sectors of agriculture, including fruits and vegetables.
The bill now moves to the House floor, where it is expected to come up for a vote before Congress starts is August recess.
The full Senate ag committee has yet to begin its farm bill markups.
Expands programs. The House measure provides funding for the fruit and vegetable industry, a farm bill first. The ag committee’s bill also gives farmers the option of signing up for a program similar to one now available in the 2002 farm bill or a program that allows growers to enter a revenue-triggered countercyclical program based on national price.
The bill expands investments in conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP. The House committee’s proposal also streamlines the EQIP application process and expands the list of activities for which producers could receive incentive payments.
On the dairy side, the bill revises the dairy price support program, shifting the program from one that supports milk prices, to one that support specific prices for dairy commodities.
A compromise agreement reauthorizes the dairy forward contracting program until 2012, and the measure also extends the current Milk Income Loss Contract program.
Reactions. “This is a good bill, with a good safety net and good reform,” said National Farmers Union President Tom Buis.
The farm leader was especially happy to see country-of-origin labeling implementation back on the front burner, saying the committee “listened to the will of the people.”
The American Farm Bureau is also pleased with most of the bill. President Bob Stallman said the rebalanced support programs “encourages farmers to plant for the market, not for the benefit of government programs.”
COOL. The committee also approved language for full implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat, set to take effect in September 2008.
The compromise provision includes three categories of labeling, one that indicates product was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States; one that indicates that product was not exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; and one that includes products entirely from other countries.
For ground meat, products can be labeled with a list of countries where product may have originated.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s chief lobbyist calls the latest version of country-of-origin labeling “far from perfect.”
Poultry is still exempt from labeling requirements imposed on beef, pork and lamb, said Jay Truitt, association vice president of government affairs.
“Perhaps when COOL takes effect, consumers will wonder why beef is labeled, but not chicken,” Truitt said. “Cattlemen have been wondering that same thing throughout this process.”
During the committee’s business meeting held July 17-19, the agriculture committee also considered an “en bloc” amendment that included additional programs the committee wants to include in the farm bill but that require additional funding.
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