The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that influences the vast majority of food policy in the United States. It covers everything from crop insurance to marketing and nutrition assistance. Unfortunately, passing such an important piece of legislation through Congress is difficult to accomplish, even in the least partisan of times.
But that is exactly what Congress needs to do in 2018 – pass a new farm bill.
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has been touring the country talking to farmers and others with an interest in the 2018 Farm Bill. Based on those conversations, Perdue has compiled a list of legislative principals for moving forward. In a press release, Perdue said:
These principles will be used as a road map – they are our way of letting Congress know what we’ve heard from the hard-working men and women of American agriculture. While we understand it’s the legislature’s job to write the Farm Bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require.
At this point in the game, these act as more generalized guidance for the upcoming Farm Bill. While Perdue’s list is short on specifics at the moment, it demonstrates the USDA’s priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill.
Here are some of the highlights I find most interesting:
- Protect the integrity of the USDA organic certified seal and deliver efficient, effective oversight of organic production practices to ensure organic products meet consistent standards for all producers, domestic and foreign.
The organic seal has come under some fire lately because it is unclear that products with the organic label were actually raised pursuant to the program requirements. This is especially true with foreign imports, which is a main source of certain grains. Last year, I called for the USDA to fix the problem, or get rid of the organic certification. Allowing the problem persist causes a number of problems for agriculture, including calling into question the legitimacy of any of our programs and certifications. Hopefully, with this guideline in place, we can start to see some of the needed corrections implemented.
- Recognize the unique labor needs of agriculture and leverage USDA’s expertise to allow the Department to play an integral role in developing workforce policy to ensure farmers have access to a legal and stable workforce.
Immigration is a huge issue right now. The uncertainty caused by the on-going debate in the nation’s capital are causing labor shortages across the country and farm needs aren’t being met. Farmers need a solution that gives them access to the labor required to get the job done, and also brings migrant workers out of the shadows and into a legal status. Making this a priority allows the USDA to present those issues to Congress as the debate continues.
- Ensure USDA is positioned appropriately to review production technologies if scientifically required to ensure safety, while reducing regulatory burdens.
I read this to mean, among other things, biotechnology. There has been rumor that the USDA and FDA want to work together to streamline the process of reviewing and approving new GMO crops. This would be really awesome because the current process takes an average of 10 years and millions of dollars. If the USDA and FDA can work together, it would go a long way toward reducing the price and making it faster.
We’re still nowhere near getting a bill passed, but I think this is a pretty good start.
You can read all of Secretary Perdue’s legislative priorities here.