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Congress Reaches Agreement On Farm Bill


The long-awaited Farm Bill has been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, with the Senate casting the final approval—in a 68-32 vote on Tuesday—before the nearly $1 trillion bill goes to the president’s desk.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bill has compromises throughout, including changes made to SNAP, the dairy program, farm subsidies and more.

The bill cuts food stamps by about 1 percent or about $800 million per year. The cuts are much lower than the House’s proposed cuts, which were about 5 percent, but hunger organizations aren’t happy about any cut to the program.

New York Times report quotes New York Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg as saying, “They are gutting a program to provide food for hungry people to pay for corporate welfare.” Berg added that those who voted for this bill “should be ashamed.”

Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America, released a statement opposing the cuts to food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to Feeding America, the cuts would reduce benefits by about $90 in a month for about 850,000 households, but it wouldn’t be across all 50 states.

“The effect of this cut would be concentrated in 15 states and the District of Columbia and would equate to about 34 lost meals per month for impacted households, and a total of 3.2 billion lost meals over 10 years, according to estimates by Feeding America,” Aiken said.

Aiken expressed concern that the cuts—which are on top of an $11 billion cut to SNAP last November—will put more stress on food banks.

“We believe that Congress should be strengthening and protecting SNAP and other anti-hunger programs, not cutting benefits, especially now, when need is so high,” he said.

He also said that while the organization doesn’t support the Farm Bill because of SNAP cuts, Feeding America “recognizes that failure to pass this farm bill would not ensure a better long-term outcome for SNAP and the low-income families it serves.”

In addition, Feeding America approves of the $205 million that has been added to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which helps provide food to food banks and other emergency food providers.

The Children’s Defense Fund, dedicated to helping children live a healthy life, also spoke out against the SNAP cuts. Marian Wright Edelman, president of the organization, called the cuts “indefensible.”

She added, “It is shameful that Congress continues to treat poor Americans like second-class citizens by cutting supports they desperately need.”

However, not all nutrition advocates came out against the bill. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said the Farm Bill “protects vital nutrition assistance and education programs,” and includes new initiatives to help improve the nation’s health.

The academy praised the bill’s protection of the SNAP education program, which helps families utilize limited resources to purchase healthy foods and engage in physically active lifestyles.

“We are grateful that SNAP-Ed is protected so that we can continue providing low-income Americans with the tools necessary to lead healthy lives on a limited budget,” Dr. Glenna McCollum, academy president, said.

“As an organization committed to reducing food insecurity and hunger, we are pleased to see that the final bill does not include drastic cuts to SNAP like those that were proposed in the original House version. However, we do recognize that some families will be affected by the reduction of benefits,” McCollum said.

The bill also takes measures to help homebound seniors or disabled people by allowing for delivery of foods purchased with SNAP, plus increasing the stocking requirements for SNAP retailers to include more variety and providing investments to improve access and reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables for SNAP recipients.

In addition, the Canned Food Alliance (CFA) voiced its support of the Farm Bill, which includes all forms of fruits and vegetables—canned, fresh, frozen or dried—in its $5 million Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which will be implemented during the 2014-15 school year in at least five states.

Rich Tavoletti, executive director for the CFA, said allowing all forms of fruits and vegetables into the program gives schools flexibility in their snack programs “and helps ensure the efficient use of school facilities and budgets.”

Farm Bill praised by food suppliers, producers

The “corporate welfare” Berg refers to is crop subsidies. Among the subsidies, so-called “direct payments,” which cost about $5 billion a year, have been eliminated in the new bill, though some of those savings have been added to the crop insurance program. The crop insurance program helps farmers in cases of poor yields or declines in revenue.

Other measures included in the bill have been praised by the American Farmland Trust (AFT), which called the new Farm Bill the “biggest reform in agricultural policy in years.”

“The Farm Bill requires farmers who receive crop insurance premium assistance to have a conservation plan to protect erodible soil and wetlands,” Andrew McElwaine, president and CEO of AFT, said in a statement.

According to the AFT, conservation compliance has led to 295 millions of tons of soil per year.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) also voiced its support for attaching crop insurance to conservation measures, saying in a statement that the conservation programs are critical for protesting water, soil, wetlands, habitat and climate.

EDF VP David Festa said the bill “will help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners protect (America’s) vital natural resources, even as they increase productivity.”

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) released a statement praising the bill’s treatment of the dairy industry.

“The agreement establishes a new margin insurance program for dairy farmers,” the statement reads, “…and rejects the effort to have our government limit milk supplies. This is a major step toward moving our dairy industry away from the failed agriculture policies of the past and toward policies of the future that will enable our entire industry to grow and capture new markets.”

According to IDFA, the compromise is good news for consumers “who will not be forced to pay unnecessarily higher prices,” as well as producers, since quotas have been eliminated.

The sugar program is untouched, along with the hotly debated Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rules, which mandate that meat sold must include where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The King Amendment, originally introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and intended to prohibit states from enacting laws to set production standards for goods, was not included.

In addition, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments” was excluded from the Farm Bill. The Humane Farming Association (HFA) voiced its approval of the defeat of the so-called Rotten Egg Bill.

“We are relieved that the best interests of farm animals and the American public were placed above the cynical political interests of HSUS and the egg industry,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association (HFA). “Unrepentant, UEP and HSUS are now threatening to push their Rotten Egg Bill through ‘different legislative avenues.’ We will continue working to insure that those other avenues are also dead-ends.”

United Egg Producers (UEP) and The Humane Society of the U.S. backed the bill, which would have instituted egg factory cage laws for egg-laying hens.

“The egg industry wants to establish egg factory cages as a national standard that could never be challenged or changed by state law or public vote,” said Miller. “The American public overwhelmingly supports the banning of egg factory cages, not measures such as this which would ban the outlawing of cages. This bill would clearly subvert the will of the people.”

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