The midterm election alters the playing field and the players for the 2012 farm bill and will likely make progress difficult for hot-button issues for the produce industry, including immigration reform and new food safety rules.

The dramatic change in the makeup of the Congress complicates the possibility for action during the lame-duck session for food safety reform and child nutrition reauthorization, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Election shuffles ag leadership, casts doubt on food safety
Election shuffles ag leadership, casts doubt on food safety

Guenther

“The big question will be what kind of mood Congress will be in when they come back in two weeks,” Guenther said Nov 3.

With Senate Democrats retaining control, they may be motivated to act on pending legislation.

On the other hand, the House of Representatives may not be eager to take up big issues.

“I think food safety legislation may be dead,” said Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

Nassif said the push for a national leafy greens marketing agreement may take on added importance if food safety reform doesn’t advance.

Nassif expressed hope that Congress would spur the Obama administration to end the dispute over Mexican truck access in the U.S., which has resulted in retaliatory duties on selected fruit and vegetable exports to Mexico.

Republican control of the House of Representatives will mean more efforts to provide oversight to the administration’s environmental, food safety and agricultural policies, Guenther said.

Election shuffles ag leadership, casts doubt on food safety

Lincoln

Nassif said GOP control of the House likely will mean an end to prospects for cap and trade legislation, card check legislation and more severe environmental restrictions on waterways.

Committee shuffle

The change in power in the House of Representatives leaves Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma in line to be chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, replacing current chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

The Senate Agriculture Committee will have new leadership after chairwoman Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Ark.) loss to Republican John Boozman.

Election shuffles ag leadership, casts doubt on food safety

Putnam

Guenther said possible Democrat successors to Lincoln include Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Guenther said United Fresh supports Stabenow for the leadership position.

Bob Schramm, lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates Inc., Washington, D.C., said lawmakers could elect to extend the farm bill by one year rather than consider it in 2012, which will be a presidential election year.

Half of the Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee lost seats in the election, and their replacements provide the key to what the next farm bill looks like, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2012.

“We remain in a strong position to advocate for our policies, but everybody is going to be under the gun in defending their programs,” he said. “We’re all going to have a very big challenge ahead of us to make sure the programs we like continue to be adequately funded to function well.”

Nassif said lawmakers must be convinced that intelligent spending means investing in programs to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and programs that increase the competitiveness of domestic producers, he said.

Battle count

Florida lost an industry advocate with the defeat of Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd by Republican Steve Southerland, Guenther said.

Boyd has served on both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Agriculture Appropriation Committee.

Republican Adam Putnam was elected as Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, easily dispatching Democrat Scott Maddox.

In Colorado’s third district, industry ally Democratic Rep. John Salazar lost to Republican Scott Tipton by a 51% to 46% margin.