Due to an editing error, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), was misidentified in Wednesday's Food section. He is chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee. (Published 7/20/90)
From a study on the international red tart cherry market to the authorization of $100,000 to "develop techniques to produce and process prickly pear as a food source," the 1990 farm bill will direct every imaginable aspect of American agriculture for the next five years.
This year, however, aside from the prickly pear grant and the reams of details about price supports, loan rates and disaster payments to farmers, there are several provisions relating more directly to consumer and food safety issues.
Appearing primarily in the Senate version of the bill, they will be hashed out this week and next when the two houses of Congress engage in floor debate, and later when they meet in conference committee.
The House version of the farm bill is much narrower and more " 'ag'-oriented," as one Hill staffer put it, primarily because of the conservative leadership in the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy is a strong environmentalist whose positions are frequently at odds with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Among the key food safety/consumer proposals are:
Pesticide Export Reform Act: This would ban what is known as the "Circle of Poison," or the export of pesticides that are unregistered in this country, but come back to haunt us on imported foods. Currently, American companies may ship overseas agricultural chemicals that have not been approved in the United States. According to some observers, this may be one of the most contentious farm bill debates. Included in the Senate bill by Leahy, it is scheduled to be offered as an amendment in the House version by Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.).
Organic Foods Production Act: A national definition for the term "organic" would be established to bring consistency to the marketplace. Currently, 22 states have their own definitions and standards for organically produced foods. Under this act, organic products would have to be certified according to a strict list of specifications. So far, this is in just the Senate bill.
Research for low-input sustainable agriculture: Both the House and Senate committees are proposing approximately a tenfold increase in USDA funding for research into producing food with fewer chemicals. Current funding for this program at USDA is $4.5 million. Both versions of the farm bill include additional funds to teach this type of farming to USDA extension agents who provide assistance and outreach to farmers across the country.
Food safety considerations in research grants: The Senate is proposing that food safety be taken into consideration when awarding agricultural research projects.
Record keeping of restricted-use pesticides: Farmers who use pesticides that are allowed only for limited purposes would be required to keep records of their usage. This may be introduced as an amendment in the House version as well.
Water quality: The House is proposing measures that would increase the incentives for farmers to adopt practices that minimize water contamination. According to a Senate plan, farmers would receive payments to enroll in a voluntary program to reduce ground and surface water contamination caused by agricultural chemicals.
Fish inspection: Proponents of a mandatory fish inspection program are pushing for the inclusion of an amendment by Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) that gives USDA control of the program. So far, there have been nine other fish inspection bills (none supported by the Bush administration) introduced in Congress. Rather than including fish inspection in the farm bill, the administration is in favor of a voluntary program proposed last month by the Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under which participants would pay for their own inspections.
Sugar price supports: Both the House and Senate committees want to maintain the current price support for sugar at 18 cents a pound; the administration and Congressional opponents are pushing for 16 cents. Guaranteeing high sugar prices for growers costs American consumers between $1.9 and $3 billion annually, according to government estimates.
Food stamps and hunger programs: The Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act, so far included in the House version of the farm bill, provides for large increases in the food stamp program and reauthorizes the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides government commodities to food banks and soup kitchens. Proposed benefits for both programs total $2.3 billion over a three-year period. The act, which targets children, the elderly and women, would also reduce barriers to food stamp participation.