Nov 19, 2010
02:20 PMThe Wind Machine
The Lame Duck II
Members of the 111th Congress came back to town on Tuesday for a post-election session. Today they are gone, heading back home for Thanksgiving. They will next appear on the scene the week of November 29. At that point, whatever work that is to be done will need to be done quickly since the pulse of this Congress flatlines on December 31.
● Food safety legislation (S. 510) was brought before the Senate by Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday. Immediately things went astray when Senator Tom Colburn of Oklahoma protested its cost and questioned its need. Then the majority’s leadership chose to adopt a controversial amendment by Senator Jon Tester of Montana that exempts small farms and community-based agriculture from federal food-safety oversight. This drove the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association to oppose S.510. Yesterday, the Northwest Horticultural Council joined a good number of state and regional produce groups in supporting this decision to now work against the legislation.
It has always been doubtful to me whether new comprehensive food safety federal legislation was really needed. (Plenty of laws and regulations already ensure the safety of our food, not to mention the enlightened self-interest of producers.) The downside has always been the increase in red-tape and new fees to be borne by members of our low-risk tree fruit industry. The upside of new legislation was the greater public confidence in the safety of the nation’s food supply to be gained given a robust federal system of oversight based on science. With Senator Tester’s amendment, we now have the likelihood of gaping holes in our nation’s food safety system and less public confidence—while retaining all the red-tape and fees for commercial producers of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Final action on S. 510 will be considered when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving.
● Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington State also made waves this week in Washington, D.C., albeit in a more constructive way than Senator Tester. Yesterday, he advocated adding energy to the jurisdiction of the House of Representative’s Resources Committee, which he is slated to lead next year. This area of work would be pried from the iron grasp of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Wall Street Journal today notes that this is an idea worthy of consideration by the new majority party in the House.
POLITICAL FRUIT: “But farmers aren’t reaping the full benefit of higher prices, and consumers don’t pay the full costs, Mr. Vilsack said. ‘There are a lot of people in the food chain that are taking a bite out of the apple,’ ...” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in The Wall Street Journal (11/18/10).