Ugly Food Fight In the House

Man, have I got a headache. This week's political drama called "The 2007 Farm Bill" is the culprit.

Today, a final vote is expected on the House floor for the massive piece of legislation with an estimated price tag of $280 billion over the next five years. At the heart of the discussion has been the debate over caps on farm subsidies, which currently stands at $2.5 million. Over the course of the past 30 years, the subsidy system has morphed from a safety net for farms of all sizes to a commodity-crop slush fund for a small fraction of extremely wealthy farmers, some who also appear to be dead -- but that's another bale of hay altogether.

As I mentioned in last week's blog space, some 66 percent of all farm benefits went to just 10 percent of all farmers during the years 2003-2005, according to Environmental Working Group, a Washington nonprofit that has been in dogged pursuit of farm bill reform.

Interestingly, the Bush administration has been calling for a drastically reduced subsidy cap of $200,000, as reflected in the original version written by the USDA (Go to Title I: Commodity Programs and click on " Word Doc - Title I" for details)

Now here's where it's gets very theatrical.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), whose FARM 21 bill had called for a complete overhaul of the farm subsidy program, revised his plan and introduced the (with bipartisan colleagues Rep. Flake (R-Ariz.), Rep. Blumenauer (R-Ore.), Rep. Ryan (R-Wis), Rep. Lee (D-Calif), Rep. Reichert (R-Wash), Rep Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Shays (R- Conn), plus Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran)
Fairness in Farm and Food Policy amendment, which put recommends a subsidy cap of $250K, plus increased investment in land conservation, domestic hunger programs, minority farmer assistance and overseas school lunch programs.

According to a study conducted by nonprofit organization Environmental Defense, 348 Congressional districts would stand to benefit from the Kind et al. amendment, including seven in Maryland and 10 in Virginia.

But because of a provision introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) that would impose taxes by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies as a way to offset costs of food stamp and nutrition programs (to the tune of $4 billion), Republicans retaliated yesterday and shot down the Kind amendment, 309-117.

As a result, here's where things stand for the moment:

Under the direction of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Farm Bill would impose a subsidy cap of $1 million. Based on this cap, just over 3,000 farmers would be affected, about 0.2 percent of all 2003-2005 farm subsidy recipients, according to a recent USDA analysis requested by the Environmental Working Group.

(In contrast, a USDA cap of $200,000 would impact some 38,000 farms.) Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns continues to promise a veto from the Bush administration.

What's in danger of getting axed: $4.8 billion earmarked for the Conservation Security Program, authored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and chairman of Senate Agriculture Committee

What's still intact: $1.6 or 1.8 billion earmarked for fruit and vegetable growers and a requirement for country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat

What's been eliminated: mandatory funding for the USDA's Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program, which offers one-time grants to local nonprofits focusing on food security and nutrition issues.

Stay tuned; if a vote is decided this afternoon, I'll post it, with the highlights.

By the way, the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to mark up its version of the bill, which likely will take place in September.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 27, 2007; 10:55 AM ET Food Politics
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Kim,

Thanks so much for the update. Food Security is becoming an issue at our house as we prepare to set up a weekly order for dairy from a local creamery and are making a point of hitting the farmer's markets more frequently. I am really excited about COOL, can you imagine, we have to scour the juice aisle when searching for US grown apples in our apple juice. Most apple concetrate seems to be coming from China and with recent scares we are trying to keep the little one away from China produce.

Posted by: late to the party | August 1, 2007 5:05 PM

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