Farm Bill Action May Need Replay

President George Bush vetoed the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the Farm bill) on May 21 and a few hours later the U.S. House of Representatives overrode that veto. The Senate also was expected to override the veto, but a clerical mistake may force the House to approve the measure again to ensure the complete bill is sent to the White House.

The President said the "bill lacks program reform and fiscal discipline. It continues subsidies for the wealthy and increases farm bill spending by more than $20 billion, while using budget gimmicks to hide much of the increase."

The Environmental Defense Fund said the $290 billion bill provides "some badly needed funding for conservation programs over the next five years and makes improvements to some of these programs." But the group agreed with Bush's comments regarding the lack of meaningful subsidy reform.

"The good news is that the 2008 farm bill includes $4 billion in new money for conservation, and makes changes to some conservation programs that will make them more effective in helping farmers deliver environmental benefits like cleaner water to the public," said Sara Hopper, an attorney with EDF. "The bad news is that the bills that both the House and Senate passed last year provided more money and included stronger conservation policies. Unfortunately, the conferees worked behind closed doors to make this a weaker bill for the environment." 

The conference committee reduced the size of programs that reward farmers for taking environmentally sensitive lands out of production and restoring wetlands. Conferees also added new provisions to restrict participation in existing conservation programs. Finally, they gutted a "Sodsaver" provision included in both bills that would have barred crop insurance and disaster payments to any producers who plow up native grasslands in order to plant crops. 

The conferees reduced the amount of new funding for conservation, in part to pay for a new, environmentally damaging "permanent disaster" program. Both the Government Accountability Office and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service have found that disaster payments provide incentives to convert grassland to crop production. 

"Cutting conservation spending to help fund a new subsidy program that will encourage intensive crop production on grasslands and other environmentally fragile lands represents a double blow to the environment," concluded Hopper. 

The 2008 farm bill increases support levels for some crops, adds new crops to the subsidy roll, and fails to make any significant reduction in direct payments. Direct payments will cost over $5 billion a year for the next five years and mostly flow to producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice regardless of how high prices are or whether the farmer needs the assistance.

For information on the original bills, visit: http://www.wwn-online.com/articles/50212/

To view the President's statement, go to www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/05/20080521-4.html.

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