The House Agriculture Committee spent several hours on Tuesday afternoon debating several bipartisan bills on issues ranging from climate incentives to addressing issues in the food system supply chain. All were advanced to the full House floor for a vote, but not without some opposition on the bill that would set up a special investigator to examine the meat and poultry markets.
“Today’s package of important bills is a great step in our efforts to provide stable and fair markets for our agriculture producers and consumers,” says House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga. “This bipartisan group of bills will collectively address high prices facing our agriculture producers and our nation’s consumers.”
In opening comments of the markup, House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., discussed the impact of inflation as well as the focus from the Biden administration on consolidation and increasing regulatory requirements.
“While a few are solid pieces of legislation and offer a dash of hope, others simply demonize industries and kick the policy can down the road,” he says. “I think most of us would agree our farm families need immediate action to address skyrocketing input costs, supply chain uncertainties and other challenges. I think we can also agree these crises cannot be mitigated with studies, task forces, third parties and big government. We need manufacturers, importers, industry, farmers and other players at the table.”
One bill included in the approvals was, H.R. 7764, a bill to direct the secretary of agriculture to provide additional payments under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for implementation of a nutrient management practice, and for other purposes. EQIP is currently oversubscribed 3:1, and Democrats tried to secure in additional $9 billion in EQIP funding in last fall’s Build Back Better focus on increasing conservation funds.
In other conservation news, the House Ag Committee advanced by unanimous consent two climate bills introduced by House Agricultural Republicans last year. The first is H.R. 2518, “Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment Act or the PRECISE Act,” and the second is H.R. 2606, “Sponsoring USDA Sustainability Targets in Agriculture to Incentivize Natural Solutions Act of 2021, or the ‘SUSTAINS’ Act.”
The SUSTAINS Act and PRECISE Act were introduced last year as a slate of five pro-innovation agriculture bills addressing climate change through natural solutions.
"Agriculture Republicans are promoting a stronger rural economy by growing climate-friendly innovations that are already being carried out by producers. The SUSTAINS Act, my bill which encourages private-sector partnerships with USDA to engage producers in supporting conservation initiatives, will be a big step forward in reducing our carbon footprint while increasing productivity," says House Agriculture Republican Leader Glenn “GT” Thompson.
Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, says she’s glad her PRECISE Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. "This legislation will make it easier for Iowa farmers to access precision agriculture technology through USDA programs they already know and trust. My PRECISE Act will empower farmers with the tools they need to increase crop yields while lowering input costs and environmental impacts," Hinson says.
Food supply chain task force
Among other actions taken by the House Agriculture Committee was the approval of H.R. 7675, which would establish an Agricultural and Food System Supply Chain Resilience and Crisis Response Task Force. The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Hinson, Cynthia Axne. D-Iowa, and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa.
The Strengthening the Agriculture and Food Supply Chain Act would create a dedicated task force designed to shore up the American food supply chain, increase government coordination and provide recommendations to Congress to prevent future supply chain issues. The task force at USDA would be responsible for evaluating the stability and reliability of the agriculture and food system as well as identifying specific recommendations to improve the security, safety and resilience of the supply chain. The task force would be required to submit a report detailing its work and recommendations to Congress no later than 270 days after the enactment of the bill.
“Right now, Americans are justifiably frustrated by the higher prices they’re experiencing – whether that’s families checking out at the grocery store or farmers and business owners struggling with higher input costs,” says Craig. “In Congress, we must take immediate action to get products from ships to shelves faster – and to rebuild and strengthen our supply chains for future generations. I’m proud to see this commonsense legislation receiving bipartisan support and urge final consideration on the House floor as soon as possible.”
Meat industry focus
The Committee also voted to pass two legislative efforts led by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., to address rising food prices — including her bill to tackle anticompetitive practices in the American meat and poultry industry.
The Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, H.R. 7606, creates a new USDA Special Investigator that would have access to a team of investigators — with subpoena and litigation power — focused on enforcing the nation’s antitrust laws. Specifically, this investigator would coordinate and act in consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as build a channel of communication between USDA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the security of the nation’s food supply and address potential threats.
Related: House advances bill to examine meat competition
The bill was debated extensively during the markup and was not supported by several leading Republicans on the committee.
Spanberger and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, first introduced their legislation in June 2021. Their legislation is the companion bill to legislation introduced by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., in the U.S. Senate.
Spanberger’s bipartisan Butcher Block Act with Johnson of South Dakota would establish a loan program at USDA Rural Development for new and expanding meat processors, as well as finance producer investment to drive competition within the meat packing industry. The bill codifies what the Biden administration is already doing with funds from the American Rescue Plan. Additionally, it would allocate grants to entities to increase hiring and processing capacity.
According to a 2021 Rabobank report, an additional daily packing capacity of 5,000 to 6,000 head of fed cattle could restore the historical balance of fed cattle supplies and packing capacity.