The Senate approved a 73-billion dollar appropriation bill this week to fund agriculture programs in 2002. At the same time, the terrorist attacks have ratcheted up concern over the safety of the nation's food supply. So Congress is considering whether to shift funding from subsidy to food inspection programs and to give more power to USDA to recall tainted food.
It's against that backdrop that lawmakers are mulling the writing of a new farm bill. The House already has approved its draft ... and chairman Tom Harkin says he intends to have the Senate Agriculture Committee's version finished by the end of the year. But the White house, backed by several of the nation's largest commodity groups, has different ideas.
With the possibility that billions of dollars will need to be diverted from subsidy programs to protect the nation's food supply from terrorist attack, the Bush administration is urging a delay of any debate on the next farm bill. To entice Congress to wait until 2002, the White House is offering to allocate more money for new agricultural packages if legislators put the work on hold. Reaction to the suggestion from the Democrat-controlled Senate was mixed. The House already has passed its version of the new farm bill.
In a show of good faith, nine national producer groups are supporting the Administration's request, though the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union have yet to endorse the idea.
The attacks also have contributed to losses in an already beleaguered meat sector. Though sales were off before September 11, the attacks severely curtailed domestic purchases when travel and tourism fell-off dramatically. Combined with the drop in export sales due to the discovery of Mad Cow disease in Japan, producers have begun to feel the bite. Feedlots have responded by putting fewer cattle on feed in hopes of reducing the supply and tightening up the market.
In an attempt to further minimize losses, The National Cattleman's Beef Association is asking the government to increase its meat purchases in the near term.