Pat Roberts (R-KS), Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman
This is an excerpt reprinted with permission from The Hagstrom Report, a news service providing original national and international agricultural news to its subscribers.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) may have their disagreements these days, but they agree that they have other bills to consider before they begin work on the 2018 farm bill.
When members of the North American Agricultural Journalists on Tuesday pressed Roberts and Stabenow to talk about what will be needed in the 2018 bill, each said there are more immediate priorities and that speculation on the bill should wait for a while.
Roberts and Stabenow both said they look forward to the Senate considering their bipartisan child nutrition reauthorization bill on the Senate floor. Each complained, however, that the Congressional Budget Office has not finished satisfactory reports on the score or costs of the various provisions.
“CBO is approaching this like a turtle,” Roberts said, but he added, “We think have a good chance of putting this bill on the floor.”
Stabenow also said CBO’s slowness on the score of the child nutrition bill is “the bane of our existence.”
In his speech, Roberts said, “We are always fighting regulations.” He pointed out that USDA has proposed a rule to require that chickens live outdoors if they are producing eggs that will be classified as organic.
Roberts said that since USDA has acknowledged that the regulation would increase bird mortality, he considers the regulation “absolutely ridiculous” and that he is preparing a letter on the subject to USDA and hopes to get bipartisan support for it.
When asked about the next farm bill, Roberts said that the child nutrition bill and bills to establish federal rather than state labeling of genetically modified foods and to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission come first, even though he and Stabenow have not reached agreement on them.
“The farm bill is on the back, back burner,” Roberts said, adding that he expects the commodity groups will provide advice to the committee on any changes needed in 2018.
Roberts also said that many of the policies established under the Freedom to Farm legislation that passed in 1996 when he chaired the House Agriculture Committee have helped agriculture and also conservation.
Roberts and Stabenow both said they are opposed to opening the current farm bill and were glad to beat back the effort to cut the crop insurance budget.
On the GMO labeling bill, Roberts said that what the Democrats propose should be vetted by producers and the food industry.
Stabenow repeated previous statements that she does not believe Congress can stop state labeling laws without a mandatory law at the federal level. But she also said “there is a risk in the long run in not having a consistent national standard.”
She said she sees “a lot of parallels” between the issue of GMO labeling and fuel efficiency standards. California started to establish fuel efficiency standards and Congress realized it had to do the job rather than have 50 state standards, she said.
Stabenow said she would leave questions about gene editing to scientists.
On the CFTC bill, Stabenow said she believes the commission is already addressing many of the issues that Republicans included in the committee-passed bill, and that the CFTC needs more money in order to regulate the swaps market properly.
“We still have this market with huge risk to consumers and businesses. The resources are not out there — to me that is the bottom line,” Stabenow said
If the Republicans try to put reauthorization of the CFTC into the appropriations process, it will be viewed “as a poison pill rider,” she added.
Asked whether there will be another farm bill, Stabenow said the country needs “a food and farm bill” because there are so many policies that relate to food, from consumption to production agriculture to conservation, access to food, international food issues and bioenergy policy.
A food and farm bill “is a national security issue. It is very important that we have a fundamental set of policies,” Stabenow said.
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