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Circling the Drain PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#12

Farm Bill Hibernating Through Spring Break But Could Disappear

Several weeks ago we wrote that things were about to happen with the Farm Bill. Well, this is Congress, not a cattlemen's group or a real business. Proposals flew back and forth between staffs and people wiggled a little in their foxholes ...and not much got settled. The Administration has some definite ideas about this Farm Bill, complicating things further.

Not managing to resolve much before the March 15 target that had been set, Congress quickly agreed on a one-month extension on the existing 2002 legislation. They're out on a two-week spring break until March 31. Observers call it even or less that they'll really finish the 2007 Farm Bill by the end of their mid-April extension. There is a very real probability they will give it up and extend the current law for a year to 18 months.


The major battles involve commodity payment limitations, total expenditures in the bill and arrangement of the financing. And yes, folks have actually gone back to see what would happen if the 2002 legislation were allowed to just expire. The commodity price support levels would be substantially higher than they are now and lots of programs that didn't exist in the 1930s and 1940s would lack authority and financing.
The key items for livestock have not changed much. The special counsel provision in the Senate version has not received much discussion and is still there. The Senate cattle ownership limitation -- banning packer ownership of livestock and contracting further out than 14 days from slaughter -- and the House position that there should be no such provisions, have been the subject of memos flying back and forth, apparently without resolution.

Should the 2002 Farm law just be extended, those thorny issues would go away - until someone re- introduces them in separate legislation. But such critical issues are best dealt with on a one-by-one basis anyway, rather than lumped in with a huge Farm Bill that most feel should stick to commodity and conservation issues instead of structural and Constitutional issues.

But the mandatory COOL problem cannot be handled so easily. Officially, the Sept. 30 deadline for implementation still stands. USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service is responsible for promulgating the regulations carrying out the law. Understandably, they have been reluctant to spend budget and time on writing regulations when they do not know whether the standards are the stricter outlines of the 2002 law or the more producer-favorable, less-demanding recordkeeping provisions and more general source categories in the proposed 2007 Farm Bill.

This turn of events has upset Rep. Rosa DeLauro, (D.-CT.). She is chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations Subcommittee. Food and drug safety in general and mCOOL in particular are issues she is very interested in. AMS missing deadlines on drafting the mCOOL regulations has made her very unhappy. Mandatory COOL had not been implemented before now because Congress had refused to pass funding legislation. DeLauro took care of that, slipping funding for implementation into another appropriations bill. So the money for implementation is now there.

So if the 2007 Farm Bill dies, so also will the eased recordkeeping for producers and more general origin language. Then it would be up to House Ag Committee Chairman Colin Peterson (D.-MN.) - who has been amenable to easing the burden on producers -- and the Congressional leadership to try to find another piece of legislation to which to attach the needed mCOOL provisions. That is not as easy as it might be, since so little legislation is moving in this Congress and the top leadership has demonstrated a definite lack of enthusiasm for all but a few pet issues.

The difficulties with certain contaminated Chinese imports, the recall of the Hallmark beef and recent revelations of contaminated Chinese components for heparin have kept the pot boiling for Rep. DeLauro. She can be counted on to keep the pressure on to implement the law.

Meanwhile, retailers, packers and livestock producers are left in limbo, not knowing if or when or how they will be required to comply with mCOOL provisions. Some extension of the implementation date has been discussed in Washington but nothing's been done.

So Congressmen circle the drain, hoping months of work don't disappear. While losing certain provisions is fine with us, losing the whole bill would be sad testament.
Legislating is often an ugly process but this Congress and this Farm Bill is, well, breaking new ground.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 05 May 2008 )
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