Disagreements over food safety could be yet another hurdle for framers of the next Farm Bill, which already is mired in arguments over tight budgets and the scope of government payments to farmers.
This week, though, the Senate Finance Committee found a way to add about $16 billion to the Farm Bill, largely by tightening rules on tax shelters.
About $5 billion of the extra money would be earmarked for a permanent disaster assistance program, while the rest of the funds would be used for conservation, rural development and other programs.
It remains to be seen what incentives will be included for production of renewable fuels like ethanol. But as proponents tout ethanol's role in lessening America's dependence on foreign oil, the renewable fuel remains controversial.
Ethanol continues to be a political hot potato, especially for those seeking the presidency. Senator John McCain of Arizona likes the idea behind the fuel but hates the 51 cent per gallon subsidy. Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, recent entrant to the Republican fray, now has decided he was wrong for voting against the subsidy in the past.
Even under new management, though, USDA continues to be a proponent of the generally grain-based fuel.
Acting Secretary Chuck Connor, USDA: "I believe virtually every American wants to see our nation cut its dependence on imported oil, especially oil drawn from an unstable and even hostile part of the world. "
And the numbers indicate some of the arguments against ethanol are being answered.
Though newspapers like the New York Times have reported an ethanol glut, ethanol producers do not see gloom and doom around the corner. Many consider this a bump in the road on the way to higher demand. Despite the prediction of better days ahead, several ethanol producers have put costly expansion on hold.
The food or fuel argument has pundits questioning whether last year's use of 20 percent of the corn harvest for ethanol was a good idea. Nearly half of the crop still is used for animal feed and not human consumption. This year, with a record 13.3 billion bushel corn crop expected, USDA is brushing the argument aside again. Connor believes even with an expected 25 percent of the crop going for ethanol there will be no problem feeding the nation's cattle herd.
Acting Secretary Chuck Connor, USDA: "...while the share of the corn crop devoted to livestock will be lower in percentage terms, the actual number of bushels of corn being fed to livestock is up from 5.7 billion bushels to 5.8 billion bushels."