Plowed Under by Congress

By Beacon Staff

With Congress pledging to reauthorize a new Farm Bill before the fall deadline, there was plenty of political will to get the $1 trillion per decade spending bills toward floor votes.

Last week, the Senate was voting on various floor amendments to the Farm Bill. Senators previously wanted to pass the Farm Bill before this week’s Memorial Day weeklong recess.

Last year only a quarter of the Senate favored language in the 2012 Farm Bill allowing states the right to require labels on food products made from genetically modified organisms.

The House version of the Farm Bill makes it illegal for states to require that foods containing GMO be labeled.

Glyphosate is the No. 1 weed killer and is routinely applied to GMO crops, engineered to tolerate the herbicide. The EPA lists 200 million pounds annually used in the states.

Two new powerful herbicides may not make it to the market this year because the Department of Agriculture subjected 2,4-D and dicamba to additional safety testing.

Most of the soybeans, corn, sugar beets and cotton grown in the United States were quickly engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. Today the industry needs a stronger weed killer against pesky weeds that have rapidly evolved to tolerate the herbicide.

Industry indicates that the acres of croplands infested with these so-called super weeds increased 50 percent in 2012 alone.

The House’s Farm Bill also contains a provision that removes clean water protections against spraying pesticides by waterways. This section allows direct application of pesticides by streams and rivers without oversight.

The House’s Farm Bill puts the profits of chemical applicators and GMO corporations ahead of the health of our wildlife and communities by creating loopholes in the Endangered Species Act to allow discharge of chemicals into waterways.

Salmon are particularly sensitive to pesticides in their spawning and rearing streams. The House’s Farm Bill is no friend to native species that may already be in trouble.

The FDA is in the midst of studying the first genetically modified food animal. It must decide whether to approve an engineered salmon for consumption in the U.S. A modified Atlantic salmon is mixed with genes from the Chinook salmon and seal eel to increase growth speed and size.

Last summer’s ABC News poll indicated that 93 percent of consumers want the government to require labeling food that has been genetically modified. The USDA approved GMO sugar beets and GMO perennial alfalfa last year.

Coffee is the world’s most sprayed food crop. Field trails in places like Hawaii are reportedly testing engineered GMO coffee that is more tolerant to herbicides. Researchers also strive for chemical-induced bean ripening and reduced caffeine content.

Given the consumer demand for labeling information, Congress is plowing under consumer rights by not requiring another line added to existing labels letting eaters know which food products are genetically modified or tolerate herbicides.

The Farm Bill comes around but every five years. It is realistically the only farm vehicle for national food policy changes open to the 113th Congress.

The big losers of the 2013 Farm Bill will be eaters unless Congress enacts national food policy that is friendlier to consumers.

The first Farm Bill amendment to hit the Senate floor was a proposal to do away with tobacco subsidies. A GMO labeling amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill will likely occur in the Senate. The Republicans and half the Democrats didn’t favor it in 2012.

The 2013 House version of the Farm Bill is far worse than its 2012 predecessor. It may well prove difficult to pass the body.

If Congress ignores food lovers in another five-year Farm Bill, the political consequence will contribute to Democrats’ biggest fears – that more progressive voters ignore midterm elections.

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