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At long last, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have both approved a $290 billion, five-year farm bill, with Senate voting 81 to 15 and the House vote passing 318 to 106, apparently sufficient to override a White House veto that President Bush threatened to do earlier this week.
Lauded as an "historic" bill by the fresh produce industry, the package includes increases of $10 billion for nutrition, $4 billion for conservation, and $1 billion for energy programs, as well as Market Access Program (MAP) funding of $200 million over the next five years and $34.5 million for the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program over the same time period.
Leaders of the Produce Marketing Association, along with leaders from the U.S. Meat Export Federation, the U.S.A. Poultry and Egg Council, and the U.S. Hide, Skin and Leather Association, applauded the bill's passage.
The bill contains unprecedented support for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. Its support ranges from production and trade programs to consumption-boosting nutrition efforts, including expanding the federal government's school fruit and vegetable snack program, much-needed food safety research and global market-building programs.
The bill also includes reform to the 2002 farm bill's country of origin labeling (COOL) provision, the implementation of which looms this fall.
"This bill provides more funding for fruit and vegetable industry programs and priorities than any other farm bill in history, attention that is well deserved and has been long awaited and signals that the times are changing," said PMA president Bryan Silbermann. "It also provides some much-needed relief from what would have been overly burdensome COOL regulations."
The farm bill offers several reforms to current COOL regulatory proposals that are scheduled to go into effect Sept. 30. For one thing, it provides a good-faith standard that significantly reduces penalties for mistakes in labeling at point of sale, unless it can be shown that retailers are willfully disregarding or violating the law. And it also allows existing state, region or local labeling, such as "Pride of New York," to suffice as country of origin identification.
The farm bill's COOL provision also would not require special recordkeeping, a departure from the current COOL proposal which threatens high recordkeeping costs throughout the entire supply chain.
PMA chairman Bruce Taylor, chairman and CEO of Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif., commended the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and the industry's "congressional champions," Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Dennis Cardoza. "It has been a very long road to get here, but the end destination has been well worth the trip," said Taylor.
With the landmark bill now heading to President Bush's desk, PMA's government relations specialist Kathy Means is hopeful the bill will be signed into law immediately. "We should know in a few days," Means said.