In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed the farm bill on Thursday by a vote of 64 to 35. The bill, which sets the nation’s agriculture and nutrition policy for the next five years, would end direct payments for commodity crop farmers, but ramp up subsidized crop insurance to save nearly $24 billion over 10 years.
As Food Safety News reported Wednesday, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA) succeeded in repealing a 2008 farm bill provision that mandated a catfish inspection program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates seafood. Echoing concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office, Kerry and McCain argued that the program was duplicative, wasteful, and was not likely to yield a food safety benefit.
Due to opposition from livestock groups, the Senate did not consider a controversial proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would have mandated federal welfare standards for egg-laying hens.
“While I am disappointed that my amendment establishing a national standard for the humane treatment of egg-laying hens was not considered, I remain committed to this issue and will look for other opportunities to advance that legislation,” said the senator, after the farm bill passed Thursday.
But Feinstein did succeed on an amendment directing USDA to conduct a study on the feasibility of crop insurance to cover losses for producers affected by, but not responsible for, food safety recalls.
“When this happens producers suffers major financial losses because of a recall they did not cause,” said Feinstein in a floor speech, also noting the measure was endorsed by United Fresh. The amendment cleared the Senate by a vote, 76-23 on Tuesday.
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) added a similar amendment, which asked USDA to study the feasibility of government-backed insurance for poultry producers to cover things like disease outbreaks.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had proposed an amendment to stiffen criminal penalties for those who knowingly violate food safety laws, but his measure was not included in the package of amendments.
The upper chamber rejected an amendment proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have given states the authority to require that genetically-engineered ingredients be labeled. The provision would have needed 60 votes to pass, but went down by a vote of 26 to 73.
Leaders in the Senate praised the bipartisan effort to get the bill passed in an orderly and timely fashion, but quickly turned their focus on the House, where lawmakers are expected to seek deeper cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps, makes up the vast majority of the farm bill’s price tag.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), chair of the House Agriculture committee told reporters Congress would begin work on the farm bill after July 4 holiday recess.© Food Safety News