(07-07) 14:02 PDT Washington — The House Agriculture Committee‘s farm bill released Thursday would cut more from food stamps and add more crop subsidies than last month’s Senate bill, posing an election-year test for Tea Party conservatives.
Both bills would cost almost $1 trillion over 10 years.
The House version would speed approval of genetically engineered crops, currently the focus of a ballot measure in California that would require labeling such foods.
Analysts said the bill appears to focus on a corn from Dow AgroSciences that resists an herbicide known as 2-4D, which is the source of a fight between environmentalists, who fear the spread of older, volatile herbicides, and corn growers battling “super weeds.”
The House bill would cut $35 billion from existing programs, with $16 billion of that, or four times more than in the Senate bill, from food stamps. About 80 percent of farm bill spending goes to food stamps.
Republicans have taken aim at the food stamp program, which has quadrupled since 2001. The program now goes to 1 in 7 Americans.
Food activists oppose cuts, but are split over whether the program should limit purchases of candy, soda and other junk food. Antihunger groups have aligned with the food industry to oppose limits, while public health activists say the program should focus on healthier food.
For now, most groups on the left are trying to fend off the House cuts.
“The program is working exactly as it was designed to do,” said Matthew Marsom from the nonprofit Public Health Institute in Oakland. Marsom said the use of food stamps should rise when times are hard and will shrink when the economy improves.
The House and Senate bills eliminate several farm subsidies but plow much of the savings into subsidized crop insurance and new programs to cover small dips in farm income. The programs aid big farms the most and some analysts said the subsidies could end up costing more than the old programs.
Net farm income hit a record high last year as commodity prices boomed. Prices are expected to decline eventually, potentially putting taxpayers on the hook. Environmental Working Group, which opposes crop subsidies, said the bill increases some crop supports as much as 88 percent.
Colin O’Neil, a regulatory analyst with the Center for Food Safety, which opposes genetically engineered crops, said the bill would gut an already weak regulatory regime. O’Neil said the bill appears to take aim at efforts by some farm and environmental groups to block approval of Dow’s 2-4D-resistant corn.
The groups fear that the new corn will lead to widespread use of 2-4D herbicide. Most U.S. corn and soybeans are engineered to resist glyphosate, known by its trademark Roundup, but have evolved a resistance to weeds.
Millions of acres of cropland are now infested with glyphosate-resistant “super weeds,” and farmers are clamoring for a replacement.
Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Washington correspondent. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org