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Finally, a Farm Bill

Congressional negotiators finally reached agreement on a new farm bill on Monday evening.

A press release issued by the office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, hailed the agreement as a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. Stabenow said the five-year farm bill would reduce the deficit and help farmers and business create jobs in agriculture, while eliminating the direct payment subsidy program, streamlining and consolidating other programs, and cracking down on fraud and misuse.

“This bill proves that by working across party lines we can save taxpayer money while at the same time strengthening efforts helping to create jobs,” she said. “Agriculture has been a bright spot in our economy and is helping to drive our country’s economic recovery.”

The agreement is expected to result in an $800-million annual cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

Food-safety talking points in the “Agricultural Act of 2014″ include:

A modified version of the Benishek Amendment: The bill calls for scientific and economic analysis of the produce safety rule issued under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), along with a plan to systematically evaluate the impact of the final rule on farming and ranching operations and evaluate and respond to business concerns. This final version eliminated the House provision prohibiting enforcement of the regulation and now simply requires that an analysis of the information used in promulgating the rule be released alongside the final rule.

No King Amendment:The proposal to forbid states from imposing their own higher standards or conditions on food produced or manufactured in another state  – also know as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) –  did not survive negotiations. “There was just overwhelming opposition from many, many corners,” Stabenow said in response to press questions on the decision to kill it. “On the Senate side, there was strong bipartisan opposition to this.” Fellow conferee Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, agreed.

No significant changes to country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements: It does apply regulations to venison and calls for an economic analysis of the final rule, which was adopted from the House provision.

No change to catfish inspection: The bill proceeds with the move of catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and deals with the delay of implementation by clarifying the definition of “catfish.” It also calls on FSIS and FDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding to improve interagency cooperation and prevent duplicative inspection oversight by ensuring that inspections of dual jurisdiction facilities by the FSIS satisfy the requirements of the FDA.

The “Comprehensive Food Safety Training Network”: A grant would be awarded to an institution “for purposes of establishing an internationally integrated training system to enhance the protection of the food supply in the United States, to be known as the ‘Comprehensive Food Safety Training Network.’”

This article has been updated to include more information on the King Amendment and catfish inspection.

Editor’s note: Check back to Food Safety News in the coming days for more analysis of and reactions to what the farm bill means for food safety.

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