By Tom Karst

The Packer

The House of Representatives passed the farm bill July 27, drawing praise from industry associations that have lobbied and organized during the past three years to pass a farm bill that considered fruit and vegetable priorities.

In a member communication July 27, the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association said the House farm bill contained $2 billion in mandatory funding and major policy priorities for the fruit and vegetable industry.

With a vote of 231-191—made closer because of a tax provision that Republicans objected to—the House passed the bill in the early afternoon. The focus now turns to the Senate, where the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee is expected to take up the bill by early September. The 2002 farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

"This is an historic day for the fruit and vegetable industry, and one we've worked toward for many years," United Fresh Produce Association chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos said in the United Fresh communication.

Western Growers and other organizations added praise.

"We applaud the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of the farm bill. For the first time, the farm bill recognizes the priorities of an industry that accounts for more than half of all crop value in the country," says Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif. "Our representatives in Congress have shown tremendous leadership by investing in a 21st century farm bill, which addresses the needs of all of agriculture."

"This farm bill is about much more than farms. It is about the food we eat, the clothes we wear—and increasingly—the fuel we will use," House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson said in a news release. ?It assures that we will have a safe, strong food supply now and for years to come. I am proud of the balanced and forward-looking farm bill that we have passed supporting conservation, nutrition, rural, renewable energy, labor, and farm country."

Peterson, D-Minn., cited highlights of the bill:

♦ Investing more than $1.6 billion in priorities to strengthen and support the fruit and vegetable industry in the United States. A new section for horticulture and organic agriculture includes nutrition, research, pest management and trade promotion programs.

♦ Implementing mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fruit, vegetables and meat after years of delay.

♦ Expanding the U.S. Department of Agriculture fruit and vegetable snack program, which helps schools provide healthy snacks to students during after-school activities to all 50 states and continuing the Defense Department's fresh fruit and vegetable program, which provides a variety of fresh produce to schools.

♦ Strengthening and enhancing the food stamp program by reforming benefit rules to improve coverage of food costs and expand access to the program with additional funding support.

♦ Strengthening payment limits to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year (adjusted gross income) can't collect conservation and farm program payments and closing loopholes that allow people to avoid payment limits by receiving money through multiple business units.

♦ Extending and making significant new investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and many others.

♦ Making new investments in renewable energy research, development and production in rural America.

♦ Establishing a new National Agriculture Research Program Office to coordinate the programs and activities of USDA's research agencies to minimize duplication and maximize coordination at all levels and creates a competitive grants program.

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