Against All Odds, Senate Moves Ahead on Farm Bill
By Colin Woodall, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs
The Senate’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill concluded today, June 21, 2012. The Senate finalized votes on the 73 amendments selected for consideration. The bill passed by a huge bipartisan majority with a 64-35 vote.
Like many of us who have a vested interest in this legislation (S. 3240), I was pleasantly surprised by the bipartisan efforts made to move this bill through the Senate very efficiently and without much partisan rhetoric. Both Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Minority Leader Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) should be commended for their leadership on this very important piece of legislation. Their transparency and willingness to listen to all vested interests was very refreshing for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other like-minded organizations. NCBA stands firm in our commitment to support this legislation.
Two amendments that would have been deal breakers for NCBA to support this bill are not present in the final Senate version of this legislation. First off, the amendment (#2252) proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein out of California did not make it to the list of amendments up for consideration. This amendment would codify an agreement made by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers. This amendment would, for the first time, take animal care out of the hands of the experts and give that control to the federal government. Allowing the federal government to set on-farm production mandates with a one-size-fits-all approach is quite frankly dangerous. While this amendment pertains only to egg production, there is absolutely no assurance that this will not be used as a blueprint for the entire livestock community. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that HSUS and their out-of-touch congressional allies will not stop with eggs.
HSUS has one goal and that is to end animal agriculture. We will not stand by and let that happen. In fact, cattlemen should know that in a blog post by HSUS leader Wayne Pacelle, he attributes his defeat in getting this amendment attached to the farm bill to efforts made by the pork and cattle communities. This happened because grassroots farmers and ranchers frequently visited elected leaders in Washington, D.C, made several phone calls and flooded mailboxes in staunch opposition of the federal government attempting to strip animal care decisions away from the experts. We will once again unite and work to keep this dangerous legislation out of the House version of the farm bill.
The other amendment vehemently opposed by cattlemen and women was offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley from Iowa. This amendment (#2170) would stop packer ownership of cattle. This is nothing new from the Senator. He makes this attempt during every farm bill and at every given opportunity. Fortunately, because of the cattle community’s work on educating and staunchly opposing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s rule on livestock marketing – the so-called GIPSA rule – we were able to stop this amendment from even being considered. This amendment and ideology is based on ill-conceived notions that packer ownership of cattle manipulates the price of cattle for cattlemen. In fact, a USDA-funded study that resulted from the 2002 Farm Bill clearly defines that a packer ownership ban would have negative financial implications of family farmers and ranchers. The study also illustrates that the negative impact would trickle down to the consumer level by increasing meat prices and reducing choice at the grocery store. We will be working to ensure this amendment doesn’t show up on the House side either.
Although the amendment process was certainly concerning in its early stages, all is well for cattlemen and women thanks to their outspoken grassroots advocacy and affiliation with NCBA, which was the only national cattle organization representing them on these very important issues. This legislation, as written, incorporates all NCBA priorities. Bottom-line, there is no livestock title, conservation programs – specifically EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) – are maintained and the research title is sustained. All this is done with more than $20 billion in savings to the American taxpayer. We support this legislation and will continue working with the House to ensure amendments that would interject the federal government into production agriculture are left out of the legislation or soundly defeated. As we focus our efforts on working with the House Committee on Agriculture to ensure another version of this legislation that is positive for cattlemen, I must stress the importance of family farmers and ranchers being engaged in this process.