Reinhard, H./picture alliance / Arco Images G/Newscom

Reinhard, H./picture alliance / Arco Images G/Newscom

There are numerous issues in the current farm bill debate that may not receive the biggest headlines but are extremely important. Here are just three of those issues.

1. Catfish Inspection Program

This program is a poster child for government waste and the type of special interest provisions that dominate the farm bill. Generally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspects seafood. However, in the 2008 farm bill, a special exception was created so that catfish would be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Facilities that process catfish and other seafood will have to comply with both FDA requirements and USDA requirements. This duplication is expected to cost $14 million annually. The new program would reduce foreign competition for the domestic catfish industry; the USDA would have to ensure that other countries have an equivalent regulatory system for their catfish, possibly delaying the imports of foreign catfish for several years. Some countries may not even bother to move forward with such an unnecessary regulatory system. Trade retaliation, affecting industries beyond seafood, is a real possibility.

There is no safety basis for this special catfish exception. The USDA wasn’t able to identify even one outbreak that could clearly be linked to catfish. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has indicated that the program could be repealed, saving taxpayers millions of dollars without affecting safety.

The House farm bill would repeal this duplicative catfish program.

2. Proper Analysis of Food Safety Regulations

The FDA has been charged with implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a law that is an unprecedented government intrusion into our already safe food system.

Making matters worse, Congress established unrealistic deadlines for the FDA in trying to develop the regulations and guidance. Rushed and poorly considered regulations are problematic for the public and those providing the food, including farmers.

Congress should hold hearings and consider both the timing and substance of FSMA in light of the feedback that has been received by the FDA. In the House farm bill, there is a modest, common-sense provision that would require scientific and economic analyses of the FSMA rules before they can be enforced.

3. “Actively Engaged in Farming”

Existing law allows individuals to receive farm payments even if they have little involvement in farming. For example, individuals can receive payments if they are involved in active personal management, which has no clear measurable standard. The GAO has pointed out that “farming operation members may be receiving payments despite questionable evidence to support claims of active personal management contributions.”

This is particularly problematic because general partnerships can receive payments for each member of the partnership. In both the House and Senate farm bills, active personal management would no longer meet the “actively engaged in farming” requirement necessary to receive payments; individuals would have to make a significant contribution of personal labor, although there would be an exception for one farm manager per farming operation. However, there is a possibility that this important change, which was included in both farm bills, may not make the cut in a final farm bill.

There’s one common thread among these three “under the radar” issues: None of them should be controversial.