It’s official, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (a.k.a. the Farm Bill – HR 2642; now Public Law 113-79) was signed into law on February 7, 2014 after more than two years of congressional debate. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the Farm Bill continues the same programs that favor large-scale, chemical-intensive, mono-cropping and commodity agriculture; however, there is also some good news.
There are gains on these specific issues raised in various action alerts sent by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and other groups:
The conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill issued a report (H. Rept. 113-333) in January that was accepted by Congress.
We appreciate those who took the time to call or write Congress! We were up against powerful lobbies on all of these issues, but voices of the people and coalitions of grassroots organizations carried the day.
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Preserved
In May 2013, the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA issued its final rule on COOL, “Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-Raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng, and Macadamia Nuts” (FR 31367).
Despite a well-funded and well-organized fight by multinational meatpackers and their allies (see Sen. Johann’s proposed amendment), the Farm Bill does not weaken or eliminate COOL. The bill does call for the Agriculture Secretary to conduct an economic analysis of the final rule, something that we welcome. It even expands COOL a little by adding venison to the list of meats that must be labeled with where it was born, raised, and processed–a win for consumers.
Fair Competition under Packers and Stockyards Act
The House version of the Farm Bill included a provision to prohibit enforcement of regulations issued under the Packers and Stockyards Act; such regulations have been issued by USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA, www.gipsa.usda.gov). While we normally promote less regulation instead of more, these regulations address the power of large corporations in the conventional food system; specifically, the final regulations protect small poultry farmers from abusive and unfair trade by the meatpacking companies who effectively control the market.
Again, despite the best efforts of powerful meatpacking companies and industrial ag groups, the Farm Bill does not limit the USDA’s ability to write rules to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act through GIPSA.
Food Safety Rules
A weakened version of the Benishek Amendment (see #214) is included in the Farm Bill. This version requires the FDA, when it publishes a final produce safety rule (“Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption”), to also publish:
- An analysis of the scientific information used to develop the final rule, “taking into consideration any information about farming and ranching operations of a variety of sizes, with regional differences, and that have a diversity of production practices and methods.”
- An analysis of the economic impact of the final rule.
- A plan to systematically evaluate the impact of the final rule on farming and ranching operations. The agency must develop an ongoing process to evaluate and respond to business concerns.
The Farm Bill also requires the Comptroller General to report on an annual basis to the House and Senate Ag Committees about how the evaluation and response process is going.
While this is not as strong as the original Benishek amendment (which forbid FDA from enforcing any FSMA rule without a scientific and cost analysis), it is still a step forward and sends a signal to the agency that Congress will continue to be involved, and not just leave food safety regulations in the bureaucrats’ hands.
States’ Rights Preserved
The final bill does not include the controversial King Amendment, which would have banned state governments from adopting laws that put conditions on how agriculture and livestock imported from other states was produced or raised. The amendment was included in the version of H.R 2642 (section 11312) that originally passed the House on July 7, 2013; see the opposition letter posted at the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance website.
We need to continue building our strength to tackle the many issues faced by small sustainable family farms and the local food movement. But for now, take a moment to reflect on these victories – they are thanks to you!
(a) Economic Analysis.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Office of the Chief Economist, shall conduct an economic analysis of the final rule entitled “Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts” published by the Department of Agriculture on May 24, 2013 (78 Fed. Reg. 31367) that makes certain amendments to parts 60 and 65 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations.
(2) CONTENTS.—The economic analysis described in subsection (a) shall include, with respect to the labeling of beef, pork, and chicken, an analysis of the impact on consumers, producers, and packers in the United States of—
(A) the implementation of subtitle D of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1638 et seq.); and
(B) the final rule referred to in subsection (a).
(b) Applying Country Of Origin Labeling Requirements To Venison.—
(1) DEFINITION OF COVERED COMMODITY.—Section 281(2)(A) of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1638(2)(A)) is amended—
(A) in clause (i), by striking “and pork” and inserting “pork, and venison”; and
(B) in clause (ii), by striking “and ground pork” and inserting “ground pork, and ground venison”.
(2) NOTICE OF COUNTRY OF ORIGIN.—Section 282(a)(2) of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1638a(a)(2)) is amended—
(A) in the heading, by striking “AND GOAT” and inserting “GOAT, AND VENISON”;
(B) by striking “or goat” and inserting “goat, or venison” each place it appears in subparagraphs (A), (B), (C), and (D); and
(C) in subparagraph (E)—
(i) in the heading, by striking “AND GOAT” and inserting “GOAT, AND VENISON”; and
(ii) by striking “or ground goat” each place it appears and inserting “ground goat, or ground venison”.
(a) In General.—When publishing a final rule with respect to “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption” published by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 16, 2013 (78 Fed. Reg. 3504), the Secretary of Health and Human Services (referred to in this section as the “Secretary”) shall ensure that the final rule (referred to in this section as the “final rule”) includes the following information:
(1) An analysis of the scientific information used to promulgate the final rule, taking into consideration any information about farming and ranching operations of a variety of sizes, with regional differences, and that have a diversity of production practices and methods.
(2) An analysis of the economic impact of the final rule.
(3) A plan to systematically—
(A) evaluate the impact of the final rule on farming and ranching operations; and
(B) develop an ongoing process to evaluate and respond to business concerns.
(b) Report.—Not later than 1 year after the date on which the Secretary promulgates the final rule referred to in subsection (a), the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Committee on Health, Education, and Labor of the Senate and the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives a report on the effectiveness of the ongoing evaluation and response process referred to in subsection (a)(3)(B). Not later than one year after the date on which such report is submitted, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to such committees an updated report on such process.
link to actual section (may take long time to access online):