Senators have filed more than 80 amendments to the Farm Bill, which the upper chamber is expected to debate this week. The thousand plus page bill — which aims to save taxpayers $23 billion over 10 years — would replace direct payment subsidies to farmers with subsidized crop insurance and a program that pays only if crop income drops below certain levels.
The proposed additions are varied. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) wants to require an Agricultural Research Service to operate a facility in his state, Sen. Linsey Graham (R-SC) wants to replace the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) with block grants, and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), wants the government to study the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on obesity and Sen. McCain (R-AZ) wants to end popcorn and mohair subsidies, just to name a few. But there are also a few that would impact food safety, according to an overview released by the Hagstrom Report (subscription).
Most notably, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is seeking to increase criminal penalties for certain knowing and intentional violations of food standards, likely seeking to attach the Food Safety Accountability Act, a bill he introduced in 2010 and 2011.
A version of Leahy’s bill, which has cleared the Senate before, would increase the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony and allow prosecutors to seek prison sentences of up to 10 years for any individual or corporation that “knowingly endangers American lives by contaminating the food supply” or by knowingly allowing tainted food products into commerce.
One of Leahy’s constituents, a young boy from South Burlington, Vermont, was seriously sickened in the Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella peanut butter outbreak and the Senator has become a strong advocate for stiffening criminal food safety penalties. The Senator has pressured the Department of Justice to pursue a criminal investigation of the PCA outbreak.
True to his libertarian roots, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wants to add an amendment legalize the trade of “illegally obtained wildlife, fish and plants” as well as authorize the interstate shipment of unpasteurized milk, which is currently regulated at the state level, but forbidden in interstate commerce.
Sen. McCain is also seeking to repeal the catfish inspection program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a program called for in the 2008 farm bill that has yet to be launched, in part because federal regulators cannot decide on the exact definition of “catfish.”
See Obama Foodorama, a blog on White House food and agriculture policy, for a full list of proposed amendments.