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House Ag Committee wraps up farm bill work

Final farm bill debate focuses on organic checkoff and interstate commerce clause.

The House Agriculture Committee resumed consideration of its farm bill Wednesday evening.  With the major issues of dairy and nutrition policy left unchanged earlier in the day, the evening debate focused predominantly on whether or not to allow for the establishment of an organic checkoff and states' rights in commerce.

The bill passed out of committee by a 36-10 vote. After debate that lasted nearly 10.5 hours, Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), said, "We have an adventure ahead of us in June."

A heated discussion came about from Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) amendment to allow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the creation of a checkoff for organic producers. The amendment was approved, but not before Lucas and others voiced concerns that the language promotes a process versus product-based checkoff.

Rep. Austin Scott (R., Ga.) added he was concerned an organic checkoff lets groups such as the Organic Trade Association use funds from the checkoff to reach its goal of a moratorium on GMOs.

Schrader said if organic producers choose to institute a checkoff program, it would provide for ways for growers to pay for research and increase awareness of its products.

Last year Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) introduced his Protect Interstate Commerce Act, which looks to level the playing field for states from other states' individually passed measures such as Prop 2 which regulates production practices.

Rep. Jim Costa (D., Calif.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) challenged that the bill would supersede 150 laws in various states if the amendment would become law. Costa, who again admitted California voters may not have had it right in its decision to regulate egg cage standards, Congress doesn't have the authority to strip states' rights.

The debate proceeded to focus on the philosophical discussion over states' rights versus the role the federal government plays in interstate commerce and what some say is trade protectionism between states.

An attempt by Denham to amend King's original bill to allow for the exclusion of the current 150 impacted laws failed 13-33, and King's amendment passed on a voice vote.

Also approved in the second round of farm bill discussion was an amendment to prohibit USDA from moving forward on its proposed Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rule. The bill replicates what appropriators have approved in the past three years.

Ranking member Collin Peterson said the GIPSA rule first came about during the 2008 Farm Bill discussion when he forced parties to come up with a compromise. Unfortunately the result was that the "department overreached," Peterson said. He conceded though that by eliminating USDA's ability to do anything, it probably overreaches in the other direction. "This is a lesson to people not to overreach," he warned.

An amendment to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) was introduced by A. Scott, but then withdrawn. Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) offered the same amendment during the Senate farm bill consideration Tuesday.


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