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Congress Approves Farm Bill With Veto-Proof Majorities

WASHINGTON, DC, May 19, 2008 (ENS) – The farm bill that passed both houses of Congress last week with veto-proof majorities invests in improved nutrition, conservation, renewable energy and farm programs and includes significant reforms, proponents say. The bill goes Tuesday to President George W. Bush, who is expected to veto the measure.

With the support of more than 550 farm, specialty crop, conservation, nutrition, consumer and religious organizations, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, members of the House Agriculture Committee, and members of the conference committee say the bills is good for Americans across the country.

“The Food, Conservation and Energy Act makes essential improvements in the food, farm and conservation programs that meet the needs of Americans in cities, suburbs and rural communities nationwide,” said Chairman Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat. “This bill will help working American families struggling with high food prices and will ensure that our farmers and ranchers can continue to provide a safe, abundant, homegrown supply of food and fiber.”


Broccoli grown in Salinas, California
(Photo by Scott Bauer
courtesy USDA)

“This fiscally responsible farm bill will still allow America’s farmers and ranchers to produce the safest, most reliable, and most affordable food supply in the world,” said Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said this farm bill will help every American.

“Senate passage of the farm bill conference report on a strong, bipartisan basis demonstrates support for core farm bill initiatives – conservation, energy, nutrition and rural development – while continuing and strengthening farm income protection,” Harkin said. “This bill benefits every American, from our smallest towns to our biggest cities, urban and rural residents, farmers and non-farmers.”

The bipartisan farm bill conference report was coauthored by U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

As the conference report passed the Senate on Thursday, Chambliss urged the president to sign the bill into law.

“Our bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers and restates the strong commitment of Congress to the hungry and less fortunate. The farm bill includes provisions to help low-income Americans meet nutritional needs by providing school children with increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables and enhancing our investments to the Food Stamp Program and food banks,” Chambliss said. “We have written a good bill not only for American agriculture, but for millions of needy Americans and I strongly urge the president to sign it into law.”

But according to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, the president is not likely to sign the bill.


Soil scientists Harry Pionke, left, and
Ron Schnabel examine a switchgrass
stand. This grass does well on
marginal land and can be used as
an ethanol feedstock. (Photo by
Scott Bauer courtesy USDA)

Schafer expressed the Bush administration’s views in a statement Wednesday, calling the measure “a bloated, earmark laden bill that spends nearly $20 billion over its original cost and continues to balance subsidy payments to the wealthy on the backs of the middle class taxpayer.”

“The bill passed today is a farm bill in name only,” Schafer said. “It does not target help for the farmers who really need it, and it increases the size and cost of government while jeopardizing the future of legitimate farm programs by damaging the credibility of farm bills in general.”

“At a time of record setting income for farmers, it sends the wrong message to the rest of the country who are not experiencing the boom of the agriculture sector. This bill is loaded with taxpayer funded pet projects at a time when Americans are struggling to buy groceries and afford gas to get to work.”

“Eight months behind schedule, Congress will send a bill to the president that is trade distorting and fails to provide meaningful reform to the adjusted gross income limit, beneficial interest or the international food aid program,” he said.

However, it is better late than never for the beneficiaries of the massive earmarks in this bill, like the $170 million for the salmon fishermen on the West Coast, or $250 million for a single entity land buy in Montana, just to name a few.”

“Reckless spending like this is not what farm bills should be about,” said Schafer.

Among many other provisions, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (H.R. 2419):

* Reduces the income cap for farm program payments by 80 percent, preventing those with non-farm income above $500,000 from receiving any farm program payments and imposing a new income limit on farm income above $750,000 per year. It also requires direct attribution, closing loopholes that allow people to avoid payment limits by receiving money through multiple businesses.

* Invests $10.361 billion in nutrition programs, providing needed funding for food banks, improving and expanding access to the food stamp program by reforming benefit rules to cover rising food costs.

* Devotes more than $1.3 billion in funding for organic agriculture, fruit and vegetable programs, and local food networks. The bill includes a new title dedicated to the needs of specialty crops and organic agriculture, including nutrition, research, pest management and trade promotion programs.

* Extends and provides $7.9 billion of new funding for popular conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm Protection Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Conservation Reserve Program.

* Invests an additional $1 billion in renewable energy research, development and production. The bill encourages the transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol by reducing the tax credit for corn ethanol and increasing the credit for cellulosic ethanol production.

* The bill requires mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for fruit, vegetables and meat.

The conference report and related materials are available on the Committee’s website at: agriculture.house.gov.

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