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House Farm Bill Future Uncertain

Legislation keeps catfish inspection, seeks recall insurance study

After the House Agriculture Committee completed markup and cleared its version of the farm bill late into the night on Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday told reporters that he has not made any decisions about the bill coming to the floor.

“I think Chairman [Frank Lucas (R-OK)] and the committee have done an awful lot of good work. No decisions about coming to the floor,” Boehner told reporters during a press conference. He also said he had some reservations about provisions in the bill, citing what he called “a Society-style dairy program” as an example.

The lack of a timeline is worrying for agricultural interests as current farm bill expires September 30 and there are only a handful of working days left before August recess. Politico reported late Thursday that the bill is one “republican leaders seem to want nothing to do with” and unlikely to see a floor vote — a decision that would infuriate both sides of the aisle and likely force Congress to vote on an extension of current policy.

The House version of the bill, which cleared the ag committee by a 35-11 vote, cuts $16.5 billion from food stamps, roughly $12 billion more the Senate version of the bill that cleared the upper chamber last month. While both bills eliminate direct payments — which have become increasingly controversial as both farm income and deficits soar — the House bill added a new price support system and new insurance for rice and peanut farmers who found the Senate’s safety net lacking.

Food Safety-Related Issues

During markup the committee defeated an amendment by Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), 20-25, that would have repealed catfish inspection at the USDA. A similar amendment was added to the Senate version after Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA) sharply criticized the program as wasteful (the Government Accountability Office also deemed the program duplicative and questioned whether there would be a food safety benefit).

In committee, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), argued that the inspection program is necessary. Committee ranking member Colin Peterson (D-MN) commented that he believes the program is not duplicative because it simply moves inspection from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the USDA.

By voice vote the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) that directs USDA to study the feasibility of an insurance program for growers negatively impacted by — but did not cause — recalls or foodborne illness outbreaks. A similar amendment was added to the Senate version by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The committee also approved amendments to require the USDA to submit a report within 90 days after the farm is enacted detailing how the department will comply with the recent World Trade Organization ruling against the U.S. country-of-origin labeling program and to repeal rules that the USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration implemented under the 2008 farm bill and stop USDA from further work on related regulations.

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