HOUSE AG COMMITTEE VOTES TO RE-OPEN THE FARM BILL
WASHINGTON, DC Today the House Agriculture Committee voted to re-open the farm bill and passed voluntary labeling legislation, H.R. 4576, The Food Promotion Act of 2004, on a voice vote. The Goodlatte-Stenholm bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee would replace mandatory country-of-origin labeling with a voluntary approach, essentially killing the labeling provision that was included in the 2002 Farm bill. The FY 2004 Omnibus bill (HR 2673, H. Rept. 108-401) included language postponing mandatory COOL for 2 years for all covered commodities except farmed and wild-caught fish.
"It is disappointing that the House Agriculture Committee's decision to overturn the mandatory provisions on country-of-origin labeling flies in the face of over 170 farm and consumer groups that support mandatory labeling," said Keith Gray, director of National Affairs for the Alabama Farmers Federation. "Further, given the current federal budget situation and international trade challenges to our domestic agricultural programs, it is risky to re-open the 2002 farm bill to potentially other controversial and damaging alterations such as payments limits."
A substitute amendment by Representatives Rehberg (R-MT) and Peterson (D-MN) that would have kept country-of-origin labeling mandatory failed by a vote of 16-32. All three Alabama Congressmen, Representatives Terry Everett, Jo Bonner, and Mike Rogers were strongly supportive of the Rehberg substitute.
"Voluntary COOL is currently available and has been for a number of years, yet companies that import cheaper, often lower-quality food products have been unwilling to participate," Gray said. "The Farmers Federation appreciates the leadership of our three Alabama members of the House Agriculture Committee to ensure that peanuts and peanut products, meat, and catfish were included in the Rehberg substitute."
The controversies surrounding the implementation of this program could be immediately eliminated if USDA would write the rules and regulations in a common-sense fashion, Gray added. Common-sense implementation such as those in the Rehberg-Peterson substitute could have minimal bureaucratic and financial burden on producers, processors and retailers, while at the same time providing valuable information to American consumers. The substitute amendment would have addressed all the small retailer concerns surrounding recordkeeping and penalties, and would have required the Secretary to permit producers to self-certify their livestock.
The bill now goes to the House floor where it could be brought up for a vote or included in other legislation.