House overhauls U.S. farm policy

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The House of Representatives passed a major overhaul of U.S. farm policy Friday. The bill gives crop producers a big increase in subsidies, while allowing billions more for when the markets take a nose dive.

In the $73 billion House bill, grain, cotton and soybean growers would be guaranteed an additional $49 billion in subsidies over 10 years. One of the few items in the bill that directly affects livestock producers are changes in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. The program was funded at $1.285 billion a year, up from its current allotment of $174 million. EQIP would be opened up to all livestock producers. And, project limits would increase from $10,000 a year and $50,000 total to $50,000 a year and $200,000 total.

Of note to dairy producers, the bill includes a provision to renew the dairy price support program at $9.90 per hundredweight through 2011.

The House also included four amendments to the farm bill that protect animals too sick or injured to walk, strengthen laws against animal fighting and express the sense of the Congress that USDA must strongly enforce the Humane Slaughter Act.

Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Amory Houghton (R-NY) offered the Downed Animal Protection Act as an amendment to the farm bill. The amendment mandates humane euthanasia for animals too weak from sickness or injury to walk at stockyards, auctions or intermediate livestock markets. The legislation would prevent ill or injured animals from being sent to slaughter for human consumption, thereby reducing animal suffering and food safety risks.

The House is looking to replace the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill a year early. And although the House has passed its version of a farm bill, the action didn’t set well with the Bush Administration. President Bush wanted the House to delay voting on the measure because he had already endorsed green payments for conservation programs and felt the high crop subsidies would lock in dollars possibly needed for national security or economic stimulus.

The bill goes to the Senate next. However, the Senate has not started writing its version of the farm bill so it could still be next year before a new farm bill is finally crafted.

Reuters



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