Monday, January 02, 2017

Battles loom, some among Republicans, about farm and food policy under Trump and new Congress

The presidential election saw little discussion of farm and food issues, "Plenty of people in Washington, including powerful factions within the Republican majority in Congress, are hoping to change a wide variety of food-related policies, and believe that the new administration offers a prime opportunity to make those changes happen," Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles report for NPR's "The Salt." Kip Tom, a farmer in Indiana who was a member of Trump's advisory committee on agricultural policy, recently told The Salt that this is a time to 'swing for the fences'."

But just what that means is open for debate in the Republican Party. Some conservative Republicans will probably try again to separate the Farm Bill from food and nutrition legislation, but "Farm groups and poverty advocates are likely to mount a fierce counterattack. The stakes are high," Aubrey and Charles report. Also on the food front, "There could be attempts to roll back parts of the school-lunch reforms ushered in during the Obama administration."

Farm labor is another divisive issue for Republicans and president-elect Donald Trump. "Hostility to illegal immigration was central to Trump's campaign," NPR notes, "but farm groups, many of them bedrock supporters of the Republican Party, are adamantly opposed to any wholesale deportation of immigrants who aren't in the country legally. Many large-scale dairy farmers, and growers of fruits and vegetables, rely heavily on immigrant labor. This promises to be a delicate backroom negotiation."

When it comes to environmental regulations, Aubrey and Charles write, the question is "Which will go first?" A prime candidate is the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act, but "Other environmental regulations that are less well-known but probably more significant may also face scrutiny. Among them are the 'conservation compliance' provisions of the Farm Bill. Under this law, farmers who plow up native grasslands or drain wetlands can lose their federal crop subsidies. The EPA also could reduce the number of large-scale animal feeding operations that it regulates as 'point sources' of pollution."

Environmentalists are concerned about what Trump's EPA will mean for bees and other pollinators. "Scientists are concerned that the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops such as corn and soybeans is linked to bee decline. Under the Obama administration, the EPA has been reviewing the safety of neonics. The Sierra Club is watching this issue closely," saying in an email to supporters that "The fate of bees — and all the crops and ecosystems that depend on them — may come down to a standoff between the Trump administration and science itself."

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