This is truly a watershed moment for agriculture. Several bi-partisan bills are moving through both chambers of Congress right now.
The American Beef Labeling Act, S.2716, is now is now under consideration in the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee. Simply put, it requires the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Agriculture to work with the World Trade Organization to develop language to enable Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (M-COOL) for beef. If no deal is reached by the U.S. trade representative that satisfies the WTO within a year of enactment, S.2716 then becomes law and the U.S. will enjoy the benefits of M-COOL for beef.
It is sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. It makes so much sense for Americans to understand what country their beef originates from that even Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who is a vegan, is one of the co-sponsors. This bill is not only good for agricultural producers, but consumers as well. It seems that regardless of the animosity in the nation’s capitol, politicians on both sides of the aisle can agree on food safety and agricultural issues. This may be due to the food shortages the U.S. has been experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also in committee is S.2855, which extends the mandatory reporting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by livestock packing plants. Transparency is the goal of this bill. This is co-sponsored by committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark. This bill extends the requirement for packers and importers of beef, pork and lamb to report all sales to Agricultural Marketing Service. The reporting became law in 1999 due to worries of concentration in the packing industry.
Biofuel Infrastructure and Agricultural Product Market Expansion Act of 2021 or S.2271 is another bipartisan bill. This bill allows for grants to expand the marketing of biofuels. This has multiple benefits. For farmers it expands another market for their production, for rural economies it creates economic opportunities, and for the general public it creates a cleaner fuel for transportation and energy security. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is the sponsor with seven cosponsors, four Democrats and three Republicans.
Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021, S.1458 allows for the planting of cover crops after a preventative plant claim. This lets farmers who could not get into their fields in the spring due to adverse weather to plant a non-revenue crop that year when the ground finally is ready for planting. This helps the farmer by getting vegetation growing to reduce erosion of bare fields and the cover crop pulls carbon from the atmosphere which benefits everyone. This bill is sponsored by John Thune, R-S.D., and has one Republican and three Democratic cosponsors.
The list goes on with bipartisan legislation being introduced and moving through Congress during this session. It seems that with all that the US and the world have gone through in the last 20 months that our elected officials in D.C. are taking food security seriously. Consumers are finally realizing that food doesn’t come from grocery stores, but family farms. The shortages that have occurred during COVID have shined a brighter light on agriculture and the need to create a market place where producers can be profitable. Contact your Senators and urge them to support these and other bills which aid agriculture.
Bruce Shultz is vice-president of the National Farmers Organization.
He and his wife Wendy operate a cow-calf ranch in Raynesford, Montana.