Senate passes farm bill: 5 reasons to care

Senate passes farm bill: 5 reasons to care

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WASHINGTON, February 5, 2014—With bipartisan support, the Senate voted Tuesday to send the long-awaited $1 trillion farm bill to President Obama for his signature. The White House announced that the President will sign the bill on Friday during a visit to East Lansing, Mich.

Following a vote in the House last week, the Senate approved (68-32) a final version of  the five-year bill affecting the nation’s agriculture and food. The farm bill impacts everything from federal assistance to the poor to food labeling and conservation of land and resources.

Given its massive scope and depending on what you care about, there are several ways in which the farm bill will directly affect you.

1.  If you care about animals

Organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are applauding two major wins for animal welfare in the new farm bill. One victory is the inclusion of a provision that makes it a federal crime to bring a child under the age of 16 to an animal fighting event.

The other victory is the omission of a contentious provision passed by the House that would invalidate hundreds of state laws that set standards for agricultural production. With far-reaching implications, this now-omitted provision would nullify a large spectrum of state and local laws concerning everything from livestock welfare to GMO labeling, restrictions on pesticide and antibiotic use, horse slaughter, shark finning and even the sale of cat and dog meat.

2.  If you care about the environment

Environmentalists, on the other hand, are not as pleased with the new farm bill. On the bright side, the new bill conditions some federal farm subsidies on farmers following conservation programs and practices. To protect the nation’s disappearing virgin prairie land, the farm bill also cuts farm subsidies in half if farmers use certain virgin lands in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

However, the farm bill drastically cuts conservation programs almost in half, from 23 to 13, saving about $6 billion in the next ten years. The maximum number of acres under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will decrease to 24 million, down from a maximum of 32 million acres in the last farm bill. The CRP induces farmers to take portions of marginal land out of production and plant it with grass, promoting a habitat for native wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds like ducks and pheasants.

3.  If you care about helping low-income families

One of the most contentious issues in Congress, the new farm bill cuts $8 billion in federal food assistance, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Changes to SNAP involve—among others—cutting parts of a heating assistance program in some states, closing a loophole that allowed some states to boost SNAP payments and implementing new work-related and training programs.

While the cut to SNAP reflects one percent of the program’s total budget, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates it will reduce food assistance by $90 per month for an estimated 850,000 individuals in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

4.  If you care about where your meat comes from

Country of origin labels indicating where the animal was born, raised, slaughtered and processed have been on meat packaging since 2002. However, both U.S. and foreign meat processors have mounted a heavy lobby against this provision, arguing that it violates free trade laws and is difficult to follow.

Australian, Mexican and Canadian producers, the largest exporters of beef to the U.S., have fought especially hard against this provision, bringing their grievance to the World Trade Organization in 2012. However, country of origin meat-labeling requirements remain on the new farm bill.

5.  If you care about the transparency of your politicians

Several members of Congress own farmland, and like any other American farmer, they are eligible for federal farm subsidies under the farm bill. Farm subsidies can be a significant source of income for some landowners.

While house Republicans originally suggested transparency regarding which members of Congress or their immediate family benefitted from the farm bill’s subsidies by requiring disclosure of such information, this provision was ultimately left out of the final version of the bill.

There are plenty of other reasons to care about the farm bill, like a Christmas tree “tax” and hemp research provision. See more information about the farm bill from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry here.

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