Wednesday afternoon members of the long-awaited Congressional farm bill conference conducted their first business meeting and members offered opening statements on issues important to them. Although leading up to the debate, attention has been predominantly focused on the different policy approaches to nutrition and the commodity title, it was the mention of many hot button livestock issues that continued to resurface through the two and a half-hour meeting that could cause a deep line in the sand.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) took the first punch when she said she had "great concern" regarding Rep. Steve King's (R., Iowa) provision that "overrides state government's constitutional authorities." King countered in a tweet after Stabenow's statement that his amendment was "mischaracterized" as an attempt to override state government's constitutional authority.
The King amendment was passed in House Committee both in 2012 and 2013 was tailored to protect the interstate commerce of food and agricultural products, he said. After California passed its Proposition 2 which sets standards on how eggs can be raised, King said the bill was needed to prevent states such as California from regulating production practices in another state.
King in his opening statement said the issue will remain a "top priority" for him within the conference committee and added his amendment "prohibits trade protectionism between the states."
Rep. Jim Costa (D., Calif.) called for the removal of the "vague and overly broad" King amendment that he says was "clearly targeted at California's producers."
Costa said it sets up a one-size-fits-all policy in Washington. "This is anti-federalism. It says we know better than the states to act on their own behalf."
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) again questioned whether the amendment is germane to the farm bill as he did previously in House Agriculture Committee debate. He called the amendment's inclusion in any final bill a "poison pill."
Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) was another hot topic that several conference members mentioned in their opening comments.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) has participated in eight farm bill conferences himself, and was the chairman during the 2002 and 2008 farm bills that brought about COOL, and said he hoped the committee does not interfere with USDA on COOL or GIPSA.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas) called COOL a "failed experiment" and Rep. Austin Scott (R., Ga.) said it has caused "significant damage" to the industry. Since the WTO could allow our major trading partners Canada and Mexico to retaliate against the U.S., Scott said a "resolution is a necessity."
Rep. Mike McIntyre (D., N.C.) added legislators need to find a legislative fix for COOL. Ahead of the meeting the National Farmers Union, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, American Sheep Industry Association and Consumer Federation of America sent a letter to conferees stressing continued strong support for COOL and opposition to any legislative changes to the law.
“The agribusiness and packer-producer groups are merely trying to scare members of Congress into changing the law to benefit their bottom lines,” said the letter. “We strongly oppose such action. COOL is a top priority for our organizations. Any effort to change it in the farm bill would affect our groups’ support of that legislation.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said he appreciated the House addressing several burdensome regulations that he's also worked on including pesticides, farm fuel tank storage, the lesser prairie chicken, GIPSA and COOL.