Disputes over the direction of dairy policy and the country of origin labeling law represent two of the last stumbling blocks before lawmakers complete work on the farm bill, political observers report.
House and Senate Farm bill conferees had been set to meet Jan. 9 to clarify progress on the legislation, but Dale Moore, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation said sticking points on dairy policy and programs remained outstanding and the meeting was postponed.
A meeting of the farm bill conference is now expected the week of Jan. 13, Moore said. “The speculation is that they have the votes for the farm bill provided they have the issues sorted out so they can bring it up for a vote,” he said Jan. 9.
Aside from dairy programs, Moore said some lawmakers want to use the farm bill to repeal country of origin law, particularly for beef and pork products.
Responding to complaints from livestock interests in Canada and Mexico, a World Trade Organization panel found in 2012 that the U.S. country of origin labeling law was protectionist and a violation of trade agreements. The USDA altered the country of origin regulation last year and the WTO is expected to soon consider if those changes remedy the flaws of the law. Moore said the Farm Bureau supports country of WTO-compliant country of origin labeling regulations.
Most produce industry issues in the farm bill are resolved, said Ray Gilmer, vice president for issues management and communication for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association,
The debate over the country of origin law for meat is not expected to involve fruits and vegetables, said Laura Phelps, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Mushroom Institute.
Even when the conference members agree on a farm bill, Phelps said the compromise farm bill still has to clear the House and Senate.
“If you have enough conservative Republicans who don’t think the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cuts are high enough, coupled with Democrats who don’t want to vote for a farm bill or don’t want to vote for any SNAP cuts, getting to 218 votes (in the House) is the next challenge,” she said.