The U.S. House of Representatives begins debate on the farm bill this week, including an amendment designed to stop states from regulating the way farmers raise food animals in other states.
Edwards writes, “President Donald Trump proposed cuts to farm programs in the 2019 federal budget, but the longer term goal should be to fully repeal all farm subsidies.” Our response to the goal of fully repealing all farm subsidies will be echoed by many of our readers, “Been there, done that, and the result was a very expensive policy disaster.”In reviewing the 1996 Farm Bill, the Cato bulletin glosses over the impact of “Freedom to Farm” with a simple statement: “But Congress reversed course in the late 1990s, and it passed a series of supplemental farm subsidy bills.”What they don’t tell their readers is that by 1998, farm income had fallen dramatically, crop prices were below the full cost of production, and things stayed that way for four years. In some years and some states, net farm income was less that direct government farm program payments even though the net farm income numbers include the profits being earned by the livestock sector. Crop farmers were using part of their government payments just to pay for production costs.Edwards then writes, “As a result, subsidies over the seven years of the 1996 Farm Bill ended up costing more than double what had been promised.” There is no surprise there. Daryll, in his analysis of the 1996 legislation written at the time, predicted that the legislation would be costly.As we look at the current string of low-price years, there is no evidence that eliminating sensible farm programs would produce different results.The truth is that whenever we write farm programs that do not take account of the economic characteristics of crop agriculture, they will almost always be significantly more expensive than the Congressional Budget Office projections made at the time the legislation is passed.
It’s a complaint echoed by crab processors in Maryland, innkeepers and lobster restaurants in Maine and Texas shrimpers who couldn’t get enough workers under the H2-B visa “guest worker” program for nonagricultural workers. East End farmers also are stymied by “a tremendous shortage of labor for low-skilled jobs,” said Long Island Farm Bureau president Karl Novak in a recent discussion of immigration policy with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), according to Riverhead Local.Even before unemployment hit a 17-year low, Devine said he couldn’t find enough dependable, drug-free U.S. workers. He relied on H2-B for seasonal help, mostly from Guatemala. Recently, he lost a $100,000 account for lack of manpower. The visas were awarded by lottery for the first time this year instead of first-come, first-served. Crab houses in Maryland that weren’t lucky are idle. Local economies are suffering. “The Mexican labor creates jobs for Americans. It’s creating my job,” fisherman Burl Lewis, who sells bait to crabbers, told The Wall Street Journal.Homeland Security plans to issue 15,000 more H2-B visas, but some businesses say by the time eligible migrants could make the trek north, it will be too late.
The Farm Bill, an all-encompassing multi-year piece of legislation that directs what happens at the Department of Agriculture, has gained attention for its proposed overhaul to the food stamp program. While it is typically written with input from both sides of the aisle and passed along bipartisan lines, that’s not the case this year. Critics argue that this year has been unusually partisan and that parts of the new bill come straight from Republican Representative Bruce Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, which worked to ease anti-logging regulations and reduce environmental review processes for logging and construction. These provisions threaten to eliminate the roadless rule, which prohibits most commercial logging and activity through vast swaths of American forest land and preserves them as habitats for threatened species and areas of recreation. Advocates argue that preventing deforestation in these areas protects drinking water for millions of Americans, prevents dangerous mudslides, and can help mitigate the effects of climate change. Some critics argue that having so many trees so close increases the chance of long-burning forest fires, but the large trees found in these areas tend not to burn and catch fire as quickly, and can often mitigate fires.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the United States submitted a counter notification in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Agriculture (COA) on India’s market price support (MPS) for wheat and rice. Filed on May 4, 2018, this is the first ever COA notification under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture regarding another country’s measures. Based on U.S. calculations, it appears that India has substantially underreported its market price support for wheat and rice. When calculated according to WTO Agreement on Agriculture methodology, India’s market price support for wheat and rice far exceeded its allowable levels of trade distorting domestic support. The United States expects a robust discussion on how India implements and notifies its policies at the next COA meeting, which is scheduled for June 2018.
In case you missed it, Congress is in the midst of a pretty major food fight. At the center of it is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the first line of defense against hunger for more than 21 million American households. Going forward, however, an estimated 2 million people stand to lose SNAP benefits if the farm bill proposal passed by the House Agriculture Committee last month becomes law. The bill’s draconian work requirementsand eligibility changes threaten to upend the lives of some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families. But it could also deliver a serious blow to the economic vitality of many rural and small-town communities, in an economic domino effect that often starts at the local grocery store.
As meat substitute products that use new technologies proliferate and the debate over what is and is not meat heats up, Congress jumped into the fray last week with a paragraph in its proposed USDA budget that would give the agency jurisdiction over products made in labs from animal cells. The proposed legislation states: “For fiscal year 2018 and hereafter, the Secretary shall regulate products made from cells of amenable species of livestock, as defined in the Federal Meat Inspection Act, or poultry, as defined in the Poultry Products Inspection act, grown under controlled conditions for use as human food, and shall issue regulations prescribing the type and frequency of inspection required for the manufacture and processing of such products, as well as other requirements necessary to prevent the adulteration and misbranding of these products.”
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is launching an initiative to prioritize outreach to small and very small establishments in each of the 10 districts throughout the country, enhancing its existing outreach resources, the agency said in its Constituent Update newsletter. More than 90% of the approximately 6,000 plants inspected by FSIS are considered small or very small. Outreach to these businesses is critically important — ensuring they have the tools, guidance, and resources needed to comply with FSIS regulations and deliver products that are safe and wholesome.
Three U.S. senators have launched a legislative effort designed to allow meat and poultry products already inspected by state programs to be sold across state lines, which currently is prohibited. The bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Angus King (I-Maine) would open the door for products that are processed in 27 states to be sold in other nearby states and open up new markets to producers. Those states with regional Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) programs that also are certified by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) often meet or exceed federal inspection standards, but the proteins currently cannot be sold in other states.
Last week, the USDA finally released its proposed rule outlining the ways in which it may implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Here, I want to point out a few things that were news (at least to me) in the proposed rule.One of the controversial facets of the original bill was that it allowed for disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients via a QR code (this is an issue we have researched - e.g., see here). In addition to the QR code or a text disclosure, it appears companies might be able to also use one of several different types of labels (I am not aware of any publicly available research on consumer perception of these labels). It also appears that a food may only have to be labeled if it actually contains genetically engineered (or shall i now say "bioengineered") ingredients that contain recombinant DNA. Why does this matter? What will be the tolerances or thresholds that would trigger mandatory labeling?