The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the Farm Bill

Now that the government is back to work in D.C., they are renewing long-stalled efforts to pass a Farm Bill. Conferees from the House and Senate sides met yesterday to begin reconciling their two versions of the bill, and Congress needs to hear from you to ensure that this Farm Bill protects organic and family farmers, our vital pollinators, consumers and the environment.

As is typical of behemoth legislation like the Farm Bill, there are both good and bad proposals.

The Good: Protecting Pollinators
The House version includes a provision to protect honey bees and other vital pollinators. As we know, over the past decade, there has been an alarming decline in honey bee populations around the world, with many colonies collapsing mysteriously. This phenomenon includes the syndrome known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) and has been linked to a variety of factors, including: pesticides, pathogens, parasites, poor nutrition and habitat loss. The House provision would be a significant step towards ensuring the long-term viability of populations of honey bees, wild bees, and other beneficial pollinators by greatly improving Federal coordination in addressing the dramatic decline of managed and native pollinators as well as directing the government to regularly monitor and report on their health.

The Bad: Organic Farmers Lose Funding
The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), enacted in the 2002 farm bill and reauthorized through the 2008 farm bill, has historically provided organic certification cost share for organic farmers. But the short-term farm bill extension enacted on January 1st of this year failed to fund this important organic program.  No other sector of agriculture was as hard-hit by this funding hiatus as the organic sector, which makes renewed funding for this and other organic programs in this Farm Bill even more critical.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) may be another victim of Farm Bill negotiations. Consumers overwhelmingly want to know where their food comes from yet agribusiness is doing all it can to eliminate all or at least some parts of COOL. Congress decided in 2008 that Country-of-Origin Labeling should be the law of the land but now a handful of Members want to take that away.
   
The Ugly: Squashing States’ Rights to Protect Consumers and the Environment
One of the ugliest provisions up for debate is an intensely controversial House provision originally offered by Representative Steve King that could negate state and local laws regarding agricultural production and manufacturing--even those laws approved overwhelmingly by voters through ballot initiatives or by state legislatures.  King’s provision is so broad that it could block or preempt a wide swath of state laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to food safety to alcohol and tobacco products. It is standard practice for states to impose conditions relating to the production or manufacture of agriculture products in order to safeguard their citizens - from state laws regarding use of dangerous pesticides on crops, arsenic in poultry feed or labeling of farm-raised fish to state pollution standards and animal welfare laws restricting practices such as intensive confinement of animals on large factory farms.  Adopting this provision or anything like it would not only be bad policy, it would likely be a poison pill that could derail conference committee negotiations.

Congress may also be faced with provisions to weaken or preempt the rights of states to pass and implement laws mandating labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Another ugly House provision would repeal a section of law authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop hazardous imports of seeds treated with pesticides or genetically engineered. This provision could greatly limit EPA’s authority to protect farmers, consumers, and the environment from pesticides that, by virtue of their incorporation into seeds, can find their way into soil, food, waterways, and the environment generally.

Tell Congress to pass a Farm Bill that protects our organic farmers, pollinators, and our ability to protect public health, consumer right-to-know, and the environment.

Subject: Pass a Farm Bill that protects organic farmers, pollinators and our ability to safeguard public health, consumer right-to-know, and the environment

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