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Farm Bill Set to Bloom This Week

May 6, 2008

St. Paul, MN – The long-delayed U.S. Farm Bill is finally "cropping up," with final votes expected in Congress this week. While no one likes everything about the $300 billion plan, most agriculture groups have decided they can live with it. Adam Warthesen with the Land Stewardship Project says, while the overall bill is flawed, lawmakers have managed to include some important issues.

"There are gains that support working lands conservation, like the Conservation Stewardship Program. There are gains that support new and beginning farmers. Plus, we're seeing some support for local and regional food systems."

The bill doesn't deal with consolidation in the packer industry, Warthesen observes, and includes continued large subsidies, even with high crop prices. President Bush has cited its cost when threatening a veto, but Warthesen believes he should sign it, as a "step in the right direction" that will benefit family farms and the environment.

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson agrees that the bill, which sets food and farm policy for the next five years, addresses some critical concerns.

"Country-of-origin labeling, knowing where your food comes from and what country it comes from, will be in the bill. We'll also have a permanent disaster program that actually is paid for. Also, it is really talking about food and fuel security, and that's going to be a big portion of the bill, too."

Peterson says most of the President's cost-related objections have been met, including additional spending for nutrition programs. Most of the bill's total cost, he adds, goes for food assistance programs, which are crucial for millions of Americans and people around the world.

"If he vetoes that, I think that's going to fall upon him in a very negative light. I don't think we can afford to put our school lunch programs, our Meals on Wheels program, our Women and Infant Children program, and Food Stamps -- those nutritional programs for the urban and suburban and those people in the need in this country -- at risk."

In remarks last week, President Bush called the current bill "massive and bloated," and is asking lawmakers to further tighten limits on federal subsidy payments to wealthy farmers. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, says a veto of the bill in this election year would be "political suicide."

Jim Wishner/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MN