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Lampson op-ed on Farm Bill

The following is an op-ed by Rep. Nick Lampson on the farm bill that was just passed out of Congress. I confess, this is not the sort of thing that I normally follow closely (some folks at MyDD did a lot of interesting blogging on it), but I thought it was worth printing here.

This past week, Congress passed the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007. As a new Member on the House Agriculture Committee, I had the opportunity to work on a far reaching, vital, and fully paid-for Farm Bill. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the President, will affect every American and every Texan, whether they live on a farm, in the suburbs, or in a busy city center. We all put gasoline in our cars, wear clothing made from natural fibers, many of us donate to food pantries at our local churches, and our children eat snacks and meals at school. This legislation ensures our farmers can continue providing our nation with the safest, most reliable, and most abundant food, fiber, and now energy.

Most importantly, we’ve taken care to make these proposals fiscally responsible. All new programs and spending were approved only if they had offsets in other parts of the bill. Funding for a portion of the bill was provided by closing a tax loophole that allowed foreign corporations operating in the U.S. to avoid paying taxes on income earned here. This is in line with the pay-as-you-go (“PAYGO”) budget mechanism to curb irresponsible deficit spending, adopted by Congress earlier this year. PAYGO is the responsible thing to do with your hard-earned tax dollars, and it is the right thing to do for our children and grandchildren.

The challenge to diversify our resources is the moon-shot of the 21st century, and America’s farmers can lead the way. The 2007 Farm Bill has a 600% increase in renewable fuels funding, including $2 billion in federal loan guarantees for the development of bio-refineries for bio-fuel production. The bill also includes $1.5 billion for production incentives for ethanol and bio-diesel made from agricultural, forest, and waste plant materials. The possibilities are endless, the environmental benefits enormous, and the push for new research and production beneficial for all Americans.

The Agriculture Committee also took steps to expand nutrition programs recently addressed by Houston Food Bank CEO Brian Green in the Houston Chronicle. The bill aims to help the 16% of Texans living in poverty by nearly doubling the funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, so that food banks and soup kitchens have badly needed resources, and provides for the for the reauthorization of the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides monthly food boxes for low-income families. The committee also raised and indexed benefits for the food stamp program, now renamed the Secure Supplemental Nutrition Access Program, for the first time in 30 years. Current benefits average $3 a day, and with 2.6 million Texans receiving food stamps, these improvements will help them afford more nutritious food and encourage savings for college, retirement, and rainy days.

With rising obesity, especially in children, and heart disease the number one killer in America, this legislation takes steps to encourage healthy food choices through expanded research, incentives, grant programs, and the expansion of fruit and vegetable snack programs for schools to all 50 states.

I teamed up with the American Heart Association to introduce an amendment creating the Healthy Oils Incentive Program. This temporary one-time incentive program will encourage the development and commercialization of certain oilseeds with heart-healthy traits, including soy, canola, and sunflower grown in Texas. Encouraging the production of healthy oils to replace the use of trans-fats and partially-hydrogenated oils in food preparation will ensure that demand is met with healthy and affordable supplies as more communities ban or reduce their use, as New York and Seattle have recently done.

Additionally, the Agriculture Committee approved a measure to implement the long-delayed Country of Origin Labeling (“COOL”) program established in 2002 to provide labeling of cattle, poultry, pork, seafood, and fruits and vegetables. In a recent report released by Consumer Reports, 92% of Americans expressed their support for COOL, and Congress and industry listened. Recent food safety scares have worn on public confidence, and this important measure will help restore confidence, and allow consumers to make more educated decisions when purchasing food.

I am proud to have contributed to such an important and comprehensive piece of legislation that takes lessons learned from the past to prepare us for the future. Improvements in nutrition programs and bio-energy initiatives will not only uplift our farmers and rural communities, but they will provide additional aid to the neediest at home and abroad, help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and protect our environment. The Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 will continue to ensure our nation’s access to the safest, cheapest, most reliable, and most abundant food, fiber, and fuel in the world.

I should note that Rep. Lampson is the first member of Congress from southeast Texas to serve on the Ag Committee in recent years. Texas lost a fair bit of clout on that committee when Charlie Stenholm was put out to pasture by Tom DeLay in 2004.

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