NSAC's Blog

Weekly Update – July 20-24, 2009

July 27, 2009


Food Safety Bill on House Floor Tomorrow! As we go to press, we are waiting for more information about any changes made to HR 2749 — the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 — before it goes to the floor of the House tomorrow.  Please stay tuned for an action alert from us later today!  (read more about the bill and House vote below).

Remember to Take Action During the August Recess! August recess is a great opportunity for NSAC member organizations to meet with and get to know their members of Congress while they are at home in the district or the state.  It’s an opportunity to educate them about your organization and our issues without the expense of a plane ticket to DC.  Their schedules get full fast, so act soon.  For some more pointers and talking points to use during in-district meetings or at scheduled Town Halls, please visit the Take Action page of NSAC’s website.


Senate Agriculture Committee Climate Change Legislation Hearing:  On Wednesday, July 22, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on climate change.  Panelists included USDA Secretary Vilsack, EPA Administrator Jackson, and Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White Office of Science and Technology.  Another panel included Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, Jo Pierce with the Forest Climate Working Group, and Jason Grumet with Bob Dole and Tom Daschle’s Bipartisan Policy Center.  Witness testimony and a link to the archived webcast of the hearing are posted on the Senate Ag Committee website http://agriculture.senate.gov/.

In support of Secretary Vilsack’s testimony, USDA released a preliminary analysis (see also below under USDA News) of the costs and benefits of the House-passed climate change legislation to farmers. The report concluded that over time farmers will see economic benefits from the agricultural offsets in the House-passed climate bill that will outweigh modest increased costs for energy and other inputs because of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions.  Vilsack gave an upbeat assessment of the net impact of climate legislation on farm income.  Both EPA Administrator Jackson and Dr. John Holdren laid out the threats to agriculture from rapid climate change.

Other highlights included Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) emphasizing that “early adopters” — those farmers that have adopted practices that will be eligible for offsets under climate change legislation before enactment of the legislation — will be eligible for offsets.  The House-passed climate change bill provides eligibility to farmers who adopted practices as far back as 2001.

Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Mike Johanns (R-NE) expressed concern about how much pasture and cropland would be shifted by landowners into trees under a carbon offset market.  Republican Senators also emphasized that farmers in some states would be able to benefit more from carbon offsets than farmers in other states and called for USDA to undertake a state-by-state analysis of the impact of proposed climate change legislation on farmers.

The Senate Agriculture Committee may hold another hearing in the first week of August before Congress breaks for recess.  Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) plans to bring a climate bill to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on September 8.  Other committees with the right to hold their own markups will then have a few additional weeks to determine whether or not to also take separate action.


Food Safety Legislation Moves to the House Floor:  The food safety bill (HR 2749) that was passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June is expected to go to the floor of the House Tuesday afternoon for a final vote under “suspension,” meaning no amendments and very limited debate and two-thirds majority needed for passage are secure.  Suspension of the normal rules is generally only used for uncontroversial bills.

HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, has attracted much criticism from sustainable and organic farming organizations because it includes provisions that could require a flat fee for small processors, including any farmers who do on-farm value-added processing if they sell mostly wholesale.  The bill also requires farms to do extensive and expensive electronic tracing even if they sell only their own unprocessed products in the wholesale market.  In addition, the bill does not specify the positive role that conservation practices can play to address food safety concerns, and also fails to provide guidance so that new food safety standards are harmonized with those specified in the Organic Foods Production Act.

On Thursday, July 24, Representatives Marcy Kaptur (OH), Sam Farr (CA-17), Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Jess Jackson Jr. (IL-2), Peter Welch (VT-at large), Chellie Pingree (ME-1), and Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) submitted a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee with specific proposed changes to HR 2749 that address concerns raised by members of NSAC and the National Organic Coalition.  Kaptur, Farr, Hinchey, and Jackson are all senior Democrats on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, the group responsible for funding both the USDA and Food and Drug Administration each year, including all food safety matters.  Negotiations between this team and the Energy and Commerce Committee have just started as we go to press.

The House Agriculture Committee has been negotiating for the past week with the Energy and Commerce Committee over the bill.  As we go to press, the final results of that negotiation are not yet public.  The press has widely reported comments by House Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) that he is seeking exemptions from the bill for livestock and grain.  Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and others are also seeking changes on behalf of the specialty crop industry.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations:  Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) announced this past week that the FY 2010 agricultural spending bill will come to the floor of the Senate sometime in the next two weeks.

The bill would increase funding significantly for the Value-Added Producer Grants, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance, and Rural Coop Development Grant programs.  It would also hold farm bill conservation programs at their farm bill funding levels, with the exception of a $270 million reduction for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

As we gather additional information, we will let readers know about any opportunities to support floor amendments to improve the bill.

Among our key concerns is the lack of a substantial funding increase for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program despite an overall healthy increase for research competitive grants in the bill.  Importantly, the bill as passed by Committee would not provide funds to start the SARE state matching grant program.

The bill also fails to provide funding for two key beginning and minority farmer issues.  The Office of Advocacy and Outreach created by the 2008 Farm Bill will coordinate USDA policy and outreach for small farm and beginning and minority farmer and rancher issues.  USDA has requested $3 million to get the new office started, an amount that the House has approved but which is left out of the Senate bill.  Also, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (IDA) program, championed by NSAC groups and authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill is also not funded, despite a $5 million request from USDA that we strongly support.


Business and Industry Stimulus Funds Start to Flow:  On Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of $1.7 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for Rural Development’s Business and Industry (B&) Guaranteed Loan Program.

The stimulus funds follow general B&I program rules with the exception that loan fees are reduced to one percent and there is no annual renewal fee.  Guarantees are available for up to 90 percent of a loan and there is a simplified application for loans of less than $400,000.

USDA staff recommends that interested applicants submit their information as soon as possible because the approval process for the funds will be significantly more time-consuming than for general B&I funds.  Applications will continue through September 15 of next year (2010) and all funds must be expended by September 30, 2010.

During the 2008 Farm Bill, NSAC was successful in adding language that mandates a five percent set-aside of B&I funds for businesses that help develop local and regional food enterprises.  We are troubled USDA did not bother to highlight or even mention the local food system loans in the Federal Register notice.  We are assured that local and regional food loans are nonetheless available, but the notice of funding availability would have been an ideal time to draw attention to the fact.

For more information contact Rick.Bonnet@wdc.usda.gov or call Rick Bonnet at 202-720-1804.

More on USDA Report on Climate Change Legislation:  On Wednesday, July 22, USDA released a preliminary analysis of the House-passed climate change bill, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) which was presented by USDA Secretary Vilsack at a Senate Agriculture Committee the same day.

The analysis indicates that higher energy prices related to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures would cause net farm income to fall by an average of $600 million per year–or about 0.9% per year–in 2005 dollars from 2012 to 2018.  Over the long-term, the reduction in farm income, assuming no change in agricultural inputs and no change in technology or farm practices, would rise to $5 billion or 7.2 percent.  Besides rising energy costs, one of the other reasons for the acceleration of costs over time is the fact the House bill would provide the fertilizer industry with generous emission allowances through 2024, so the analysis assumes those allowances disappear beginning in 2025.

On the other hand, grower revenues from carbon offsets in the cap and trade system could equal about $2 billion per year in the short-term and up to $28 billion per year over the long-term.  USDA has not yet done an analysis of the cost to farmers of implementing the practices that would earn offsets, but nonetheless believes it is safe to assume that the revenue from agricultural offsets will rise faster than total costs.

The study has drawn criticism because it examined estimated economic impacts on corn, sorghum, barley, oats, wheat, rice, soybeans, cattle, hogs, broilers, turkey, eggs and dairy, and upland cotton but did not include any analysis of specialty crops.  Higher value specialty crops account for about half of overall farm income.  In addition, the analysis did not consider the economic impacts of incentives for agriculturally-based biofuels included in the Energy Policy Act of 2007 or that which may be folded into or accompany climate change legislation.

Categories: General Interest

Comments are closed.