Congressional negotiators reach deal on U.S. farm bill
Anti-hunger groups and some Democrats, including Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, decried the cuts.
With congressional elections looming in November, Obama has highlighted social safety-net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance as a way to combat the widening income gap in the United States.
The massive legislation contained provisions on everything from an initiative to help beginning farmers and ranchers get a foothold in the business, to funding for research into chronic wasting disease in deer, to biofuels and organic farming.
Lawmakers attempted to take aim at duplicative programs, and were able, for example, to shrink 23 existing conservation programs into 13.
The last farm bill, which passed in 2008, expired in September after being extended for one year while negotiators ironed out differences between measures approved in the House and Senate.
Direct Subsidies Go, Cool Stays
Stabenow lauded the end of so-called direct payment subsidies, which for years have been doled out to farmers and landowners - to the tune of some $5 billion a year - regardless of whether or not there is a need for support, and whether or not they actually grew crops.
Instead, agricultural producers will be provided with stronger tools to manage risk. The bill also will establish permanent disaster assistance for livestock producers.
"We started at the beginning saying we were going to do away with direct payments, and save billions and instead put it into risk management to support farmers with crop insurance and disaster assistance. We've done that," Stabenow said.
The American Soybean Association, a group that lobbies for the interests of soybean growers, said the "flexible farm safety net" was a positive development for its members.
"The bill established practical risk-management programs that will protect us in difficult times," said Ray Gaesser, president of the ASA and a farmer from Corning, Iowa.
Despite last-minute lobbying from the meat industry, so-called country of origin labeling (COOL) remained in the bill. The provision requires meat to be labeled as to where animals are born, grown and processed.
COOL backers, including consumer groups and ranchers, say consumers have a right to know where their meat originates. U.S. meatpackers say the law imposes unnecessary costs on the industry and violates free trade provisions.
Retaining COOL will provide cattle producers with certainty in planning, including the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, said President Jon Wooster, a San Lucas, California, rancher.
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