Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

House Farm Bill: Bit of good, mostly not

Earlier this week the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill by a vote of 35-11 after one long day and more than 100 amendments.

Here's the upshot. Conservation programs took a big hit. Genetically engineered (GE) crops were given a free ride. And unfortunate language reversing EPA’s authority to regulate pesticide pollution under the Clean Water Act is included. A vote on the House floor is up next, but it hasn't been scheduled yet. Then it's on to reconciliation with the version passed by the Senate.

Here’s the lowdown on the House bill in more detail — some good, lots of bad. 

A few wins

As the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) explains, the wins in this version include support for farm to school procurement, improvements in the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and support for using food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP) at farmers markets and with local community supported agriculture projects.

A number of amendments passed that support beginning farmers and ranchers, including small-scale operations, especially of women, minority and socially disadvantaged farmers.

Only one amendment addressed organic agriculture, extending previous Farm Bill language on crop insurance that specifically recognizes organic prices, and limits additional premiums that organic growers have to pay.

Big losses

There was plenty of bad news. No progress was made on reforming the huge payments to growers of the large commodity crops, leaving in place a system in which huge sums of money go to the largest farms, absentee landowners or private investors. Ferd Hoefner, policy director with NSAC, called it an "anti-reform bill — bad for family farmers, rural communities and the environment."

Overall cuts to conservation are similar to the Senate bill, but the House version would cut the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by an additional $1.1 billion — a 30% reduction in CSP acreage per year, for a program that even at today’s level can only enroll 50% of the farmers and ranchers who apply.

While the recently-passed Senate bill would require recipients of crop insurance subsidies to implement conservation practices, referred to as conservation compliance, the House would not. As I described in an earlier blog, this is a commonsense measure that PAN strongly supports.

Anti-regulation of GE crops

Prior to the vote, PAN joined partners around the country in an attempt to block sweeping pro-chemical industry attacks on safeguards regarding GE crops. We lost this battle, but won't give up the fight.

The "Monsanto rider" would force USDA to grant permits for the planting or cultivation of GE crops.

Far from modernizing the regulatory environment and advancing the health of U.S. agriculture, a suite of successful riders (buried in the massive committee proposal) would gut the USDA's already-weak ability to regulate the politically influential agriculture-biotech industry.

One example, the so-called “Monsanto rider,” would force the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a GE crop, even if a federal judge has first ordered an Environmental Impact Statement.

In reference to this week's bill from the ag committee and another recent bill out of the ag appropriations committee, Tom Philpott of Mother Jones concludes:

The current bill would ensure that the USDA never gets a chance to give them [GE crops] proper scrutiny. Combined, if passed into law, the two bills would effectively negate any semblance of public oversight of new GE crops.

Next steps

PAN continues to work with NSAC and partners in California and around the country to protect and strengthen the programs that support sustainable and organic agriculture, rural development, beginning farmers and ranchers, and local farm and food systems.

We'll continue to engage with farmer leaders, and food and environmental health activists to educate key members of Congress about the importance of these programs for ensuring the long-term sustainability of agricultural production, rural communities, and the natural resources upon which we all depend. Adelante!

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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