No farm bill movement as dairy, COOL, payment limit issues loom
January 24, 2014
There appears to have been no movement on the farm bill in recent days, with members of Congress home in their districts and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday closing the government on Monday and the weather keeping it closed on Tuesday, with federal employees on liberal leave today.
Farm bill conferees have not reached agreement on what is being called "the Lucas margin insurance bill," a dairy lobbyist told The Hagstrom Report today, in reference to the bill developed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would not allow a bill with what he considers supply management to come to the House floor.
The lobbyist also said that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will play a key role in determining final policy.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told reporters last week that he believed an agreement he could support was near, but he later pulled back from that statement, saying there was no agreement. The National Milk Producers Federation said late last week that the process of developing an alternative to the program in the Senate bill was only at the beginning stage.
Some 96 farm, ranch, consumer, rural, labor and faith groups said in a joint statement today that they have delivered a letter to the farm bill conferees opposing any changes to the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program and that any effort to change COOL should be done by a public conference committee vote and not in closed door conference committee negotiations.
The groups, which included R-CALF USA, the Consumer Federation of America, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Food & Water Watch and the National Family Farm Coalition, said they were reacting to an effort by the U.S. Trade Representative's Office recommendation to conferees that they water down COOL by replacing the "born, raised and slaughtered" production-step labels with "product of USA" and "product of North America."
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"This sneak attack on COOL subverts President [Barack] Obama's campaign promise to implement COOL and runs contrary to USDA's May 2013 final COOL rules," the 96 groups said.
"Moreover, it is extremely hypocritical for the farm bill conferees to provide protection for cotton farmers from a WTO dispute the U.S. lost while sacrificing farmers, ranchers and consumers to a WTO dispute that is still in play."
A USTR spokeswoman told The Hagstrom Report, "At the request of Senate Agriculture Committee staff, USTR has provided technical advice on proposed changes to the COOL statute."
The spokeswoman declined to discuss what the advice had been.
The National Farmers Union separately sent a letter warning the conferees not to change COOL.
"If any harmful changes to COOL are included in the farm bill, it could very likely affect NFU's ability to support the entire farm bill," NFU President Roger Johnson said. "Farmers, ranchers, producers and consumers strongly support COOL and I urge Congress to defend the current law."
USTR and USDA have previously said that the COOL issue is being handled within the WTO appeals process.
Jess Peterson of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, another group that favors COOL, noted "USCA remains steadfast in its position that COOL is currently being worked out within the WTO process,"
"Any legislative changes offered up in the farm bill with regards to COOL are unwarranted and not helpful — and quite frankly jeopardize overall passage of the bill," he said.
"Now more than ever ranchers and farmers need a farm bill passed and implemented. USCA greatly appreciates the continued bipartisan support for COOL that has been provided by members of both the House and Senate along with USTR and USDA. COOL is a very popular and useful provision for cattle producers and consumers alike and should remain the law of the land."
"It is time to move the farm bill across the finish line," said Johnson. "Family farmers, ranchers, fishermen, rural communities and consumers have waited long enough for a long-term plan. We are hopeful that the process is nearing an end."
Johnson's letter said NFU's other priorities are establishing fixed reference prices for commodity programs, enacting a price stabilization tool as part of the dairy safety net, providing $900 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy programs, including adequate funding levels for the farmers market and local foods promotion program, and maintaining farm bill permanent law to provide Congress the impetus to update and review farm policy periodically.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also told reporters that the issue of payment limits may be resolved by leaving it up to the Agriculture Department to implement a policy. F
–The Hagstrom Report