Food safety was an issue pushed to the forefront this week because of the E-coli outbreak in Europe. Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor says FDA needs to develop and implement new regulations to protect America’s food supply. There is opposition to new regulations in Congress. Some members feel that we already have too many government regulations and many are not willing to increase funding that will be needed if new rules are put in place. The recently passed House agriculture appropriations bill would cut the budget for FDA by $87 million compared to funding for fi scal 2011. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are calling for hearings on the food safety issue, but no hearings have been scheduled.
A U.S. District Court in California has ruled that agriculture and chemical groups can be a part of settlement talks between the EPA and environmental groups concerning the approval and use of pesticides. Environmental groups fi led suit against the EPA early this year, charging that EPA violated the Endangered Species Act when approving some 300 registered pesticides. Ag groups worry that a settlement of the case could result in the removal of many of these products from the market, at least for the period during which EPA evaluates their effect on some 200 endangered species. The Court agreed that the concerns of the agriculture and chemical industries might be ignored by the parties to the lawsuit and ruled that the American Farm Bureau, Crop Life America, the American Chemistry Council and others could be a part of the settlement process. The deadline for a settlement is set for the end of July.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants to lower the caps for farm program payments. His proposed legislation would lower the cap on direct payments from $40,000 currently, to $20,000. The cap on counter-cyclical payments would be reduced from $65,000 to $30,000 and marketing loan gains or loan defi ciency payments would be capped at $75,000. Senator Grassley has proposed these limits before, but he says he thinks they have a better chance of passing this year as Congress tries to fi nd ways to reduce the federal budget defi cit.
The House Appropriations Committee has passed a $125.5 billion bill to fund the Agriculture Department for fi scal 2012. The bill still has to be voted on by the full House, but as it stands now the bill would limit farm payments to farmers with an adjusted gross income of more than $250,000, down from the current level of $750,000. The bill also cuts funding for agricultural research, conservation programs, nutrition programs and crop insurance. With the new responsibilities approved to oversee the market for derivatives, more funding is needed for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. But the House bill does not include the money needed to implement the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform Law. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet even started work on a bill for agriculture for fi scal 2012.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) is pushing to reform dairy policy now, rather than wait for the 2012 Farm Bill. Peterson backs the National Milk Producers Federation dairy market stabilization program. A recently completed analysis by the Congressional Budget Offi ce shows the proposal would cost less money than existing dairy policy. The decision to debate new dairy legislation ahead of the overall farm bill debate will be made by committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK).