Farm Bill Could Get a House Vote Following the Presidential Election, but Some are Concerned about “Biotech Riders” and Food Stamp Cuts

Monday, November 12, 2012, by Carla Gray

Now that the election is over, it appears that the House of Representatives is getting back to business on important agricultural legislation. This is because House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will try to bring a vote on the Farm Bill to the House floor during the lame duck session. The Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill, S. 3240, is titled the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012. This version of the Farm Bill was passed in the senate earlier this year and would provide the necessary funding for many current and new USDA programs through 2017. The House version of the farm bill, H.R. 6083, is titled the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012, and was passed by The House Committee on Agriculture several months ago. This bill also provides programs and funding through 2017.

 A new Farm Bill is urgently needed because the previous bill was effective through 2012, and has since expired. Although the Senate has passed their bill, the House version of bill has sat at a standstill since Committee markup and has not yet had an official full House vote. The stall on the passage of the Farm Bill occurred in the House because the bill did not have enough votes to pass.

Notably, one of the more controversial parts of the House version of the Farm Bill are that it includes sections related to regulation genetically engineered crops. These “biotech riders” are seen by some as a way to reduce oversight of these crops. This year has been both a busy and controversial one for genetically modified crops, as California residents had the opportunity to vote on Proposition 37, which did not pass. The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill originally included language to allow States “to require mandatory labeling of food and beverages made with genetically engineered ingredients,” but this was rejected in the final version. Also, a recent study involving rat consumption of genetically modified corn is now being scrutinized for its findings that such foods are unsafe. With all of the national conversation about these foods occurring, House inclusion of legislation concerning genetically modified foods will likely be a divisive issue for many in the public.

 A new Farm Bill is urgently needed because the previous bill was effective through 2012, and has since expired.

Another of the more controversial parts of both the House and Senate versions of the Bill involves the cutting of billions of dollars of funds to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is program is known as the food stamp program, or the SNAP. Although the Senate version has passed, there is an argument by some in the public that cuts to such a program that serves the needy would be “unconscionable” because the bill simultaneously serves “corporate farming interests.” Some House and Senate members are also opposed to the SNAP cuts presented. If the House version passes, both bills will contain cuts, and the extent of cuts allowed would have to be resolved between the bills.

The 2012 Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that will help guide U.S. agricultural and food policy in the coming years. Because of the bill’s significance, it is likely to encounter some resistance by members of the public, and ultimately the members of Congress that represent the public. It is unclear where the Farm Bill stands at this time, and to what extent “riders” and SNAP cuts will or will not occur in the final bill. It is clear, however, that these issues will likely resurface in the coming months when the House moves forward with their bill.